Marcus White expressed dismay at “how segregated our (metro Milwaukee) region is,” during a presentation at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Feb. 27.
White, vice president of community partnerships for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, noted at the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee’s Annual Cabinet Retreat that “the four-county region” of Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties “is nearly one-third people of color, largely, but not entirely, concentrated in Milwaukee County.”
He added that 12 percent of the region’s middle class African-Americans and other blacks reside in the suburbs, while the national average is 39 percent.
The conference, which White formerly served as executive director, represents the Catholic faith tradition and about a dozen others. Some 35 cabinet members and guests attended White’s presentation.
Aided by research assistant Theresa Beaumier, a Marquette University graduate student, White familiarized his audience with “Vital Signs: Benchmarking Metro Milwaukee 2013,” a project the foundation co-sponsored. “Vital Signs” offers “a comprehensive look at the quality of life in the region,” furnishing “a tool to gauge how our region is faring” that might ultimately “move all of us forward,” according to the foundation’s website.
He highlighted information from that report, which considers Milwaukee in relation to 15 other metro areas. Many of the areas – including Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis and Minneapolis – are similar in size and/or geography.
The report notes “a wide divide between the white and non-white populations in metro Milwaukee, literally and figuratively. To begin with, there is a tremendous age disparity between whites and non-whites – the white population is (at 40.9 years) one of the oldest among the 16 metros, whereas the African-American, Asian, and Hispanic populations (24.5 to 29) are all among the youngest.”
Observed White, “You’re talking about almost a generational gap in median age.” He added that he finds the relative youthfulness of Milwaukee’s people of color (44 percent under age 25) “most encouraging.”
According to the report, “Racial disparities in quality of life can be seen throughout (it) as well – in household income, poverty rates and infant mortality. But perhaps most jarring, Milwaukee has the worst residential segregation, between whites and African Americans and between whites and Hispanics.”
Although taken aback by “how pronounced” metro Milwaukee’s racial disparity appears to be, White called the area’s diversity exciting. Milwaukeeans “have to celebrate our diversity,” he said. The report points out the region’s “long history of cultural diversity, with its notable German-, Polish- and African American communities. Indeed, the metro area ranks near the top tier in the percentage of the population of a racial or ethnic minority and even has the fourth highest percentage of people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity.”
In the early 1970s, White said, metro Milwaukee’s African American community boasted the second highest income in the country. However, then came the “significant de-industrialization” of the 1980s.
White mentioned the view held in some quarters that “Milwaukee is treated with disdain by its state government.” Cities that are state capitals and sites of flagship state universities – Minneapolis and Columbus are cases in point – appear to be performing rather capably, while cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee are struggling, he said.
Among other “Vital Signs” information shared at the cathedral:
Metro Milwaukee has a black-white dissimilarity index of 81.5, highest among the 16 metro areas; Minneapolis’ 52.9 is lowest. Such indices show the degree to which an area is segregated; a 100 index would indicate total segregation. The city of Milwaukee, with an index of 70, is more segregated than 11 of the metro areas.
The percentage of population below the poverty level is the same – 15.9 percent – throughout metro Milwaukee as throughout the United States. In the city, the percentage is 29.9. And, while 8.8 percent of metro Milwaukee whites are below the poverty level – the smallest percentage aside from 7.4 for metro Minneapolis – the figure for blacks locally is 38.8 percent — highest among the 16 locales.
Median household income in the Milwaukee area is slightly more than $50,000. “We are right on par with the U.S.,” White noted. “However, when you break it down by race, you see a stark difference.” Metro Milwaukee’s black/African American average is less than $25,000, lowest among the 16 regions, and its Hispanic average slightly above $35,000, trumping only Indianapolis and Louisville. The white median: $58,174, sixth of 16.
In metro Milwaukee, 14.4 percent of residents are, as White said, “engaged in manufacturing.” That figure leads the metros, with second-place Cleveland at 12 percent. White posed “a fundamental question in terms of where we invest as a region: Is this a strength upon which we should build?” The percentage of metro Milwaukeeans employed in education and health services is 17.9, behind only Pittsburgh and Cleveland, a fact White said the researchers found encouraging.
Regarding educational attainment, White said, “we’re in the middle of the pack,” and doing a satisfactory job of attracting graduate degree holders. Metro Milwaukee “ranked very well” in volunteerism, according to White, and “ranked highly” in charitable contributions — $1,128 per capita to local, nonprofit public charities, in the top third among the locales.