Study: Milwaukee Hosts Largest Racial Job Gap In Country

This story was written by Jack Kelly, The Marquette Tribune


More than half of working-age black males in Milwaukee do not have jobs, according to a study released by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The study also showed that the disparity in Milwaukee between white and black joblessness is the worst in American cities.

In Milwaukee, 51.1 percent of black males were jobless in 2007, up from 46.8 percent a year prior. The rate for white males was 18.6 percent.

In the study, "jobless" is defined as males, ages 16 to 64 who are not employed. The typically accepted measure, the unemployment rate, was not an accurate representation, according to study director Marc Levine, because it tends to understate the full scope of the problem.

Levine, the director of the UW-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development, said one of the study's goals is to show that the efforts to address this issue are failing.

"What we've been trying to do in this community to address this issue clearly isn't working," Levine said. "The numbers continue to get worse, not better. And given perilous economic conditions on the horizon, we have every reason to fear that conditions may get even worse."

Levine pointed out that even though the number of black Milwaukeeans with high school and college diplomas continues to increase, black joblessness continues to be a problem. The percentage of black Milwaukeeans with a high school diploma rose from 34 percent to 76.1 percent between 1970 and 2007, according to the study.

"These statistics suggest that the view of education as a panacea to the crisis of black male joblessness is, at a minimum, simplistic," Levine said.

Ralph Hollmon, president and CEO of the Milwaukee Urban League, said one of the major problems is determining why Milwaukee's rate is so high.

"One of the tough things to figure out is why Milwaukee is so much worse," Hollmon said. "None of us have the answer, and we've got to come together and figure that out."

Milwaukee trails only Buffalo, N.Y., in black male joblessness out of 35 selected large metro areas, and is second to none in racial disparity. The gap between whites without a job and blacks without a job is 32.5 percent, according to the study, the largest in the country.

Hollmon said he thinks fixing this disparity will ultimately have a positive effect on the public as a whole.

"If we could mitigate it, I believe the quality of life for everybody in our city and region and state would be a whole lot better," Hollman said.

Levine said the city of Milwaukee should provide programs, and investing in infrastructure has been proven to work.

"The private sector labor market isn't flourishing," Levine said. "It's not generating enough jobs."

One of the solutions discussed in the study is a light rail system that will aim to connect the unemployed with places where there are jobs.

"We know less about economic development than we think we do, but one of the things we do know is infrastructure investments are absolutely essential," Levine said.

Donald Sykes, director of Milwaukee's Office of Workforce Development, said residents need to be aware of how taxes can be beneficial in solving an issue like this.

"(Citizens have) just this blind, hold-down-taxes approach," Sykes said. "And I think we need to look at certain examples of when we have taxes, what benefits do we get out of it?"

Fifteenth District Alderman Willie Hines, Jr., president of the Common Council, said the key is diversity of programs in order to combat the issue of joblessness.

"There must be both institutional and individual acountability," he said. "We have to entertain as many different possibilities to employ those who are unemployed and underemployed."
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