Poverty, Race & Milwaukee: Unpacking New U.S. Census Estimates

Sep 18, 2018

New Census Bureau estimates came out recently for both Wisconsin and the nation with numbers on 2017 poverty rates, median income levels, and a host of other topics.

The survey, called the New American Community Survey, found 11.3 percent of Wisconsin’s population is estimated to be living below the poverty line. While that's a full percentage point lower than the national average, Wisconsin's percentage isn't significantly different than what it was a year ago — 11.8 percent. 

And, 2016 data showed that Milwaukee's poverty level was at 28.4 percent, over double Wisconsin and the nation's.

Credit U.S. Census Bureau

UWM Professor David Pate, who studies race and poverty at the UWM Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, says poverty in Milwaukee is a very complex problem that touches upon issues of race and gender.

He says that one reason Milwaukee's poverty level is so high involves the changes the city went through in the 1970s and '80s when manufacturing jobs left the city.

"We have not had the same possibilities for people to have access to jobs that may not have required a high school degree," Pate explains.

"Particularly for low-income black families," he adds, "one of the biggest issues is, unfortunately, we have very high rates of mass incarceration. So, anyone with a criminal record, oftentimes, may be denied access to employment. So, we need to figure out ways to allow employers not to hold that against people, as a way of holding back employment opportunities."

Pate says it's also important to increase minimum wage, encourage a living wage and proper sick leave, and provide transportation opportunities.