Reporter Publishes A Yearlong Examination Of Poverty In Milwaukee

The St. Ben's Community Meal Program provides dinner to those in need six days a week.
Credit Sue Vliet /

Last week, Governor Walker announced a plan he proposes that would submit recipients of welfare programs like Medicaid and food stamps to drug testing. It's the latest in a series of reforms he and other politicians have worked to implement on programs designed to assist people living in poverty.

But a yearlong series on poverty in Milwaukee found that the equation is even more complex than the issue of benefits and eligibility.

Brendan O'Brien recently completed the series for the online Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.  He joined Lake Effect's Mitch Teich in the studio to discuss what he got out of spending a year working on a single issue.

"My biggest takeaway from the series is I learned a lot about the survival skills, the resiliency, the empowerment that people have for themselves in Milwaukee. Milwaukeeans are really ingenious when it comes to surviving," O'Brien said.

O'Brien examined many topics from housing segregation, to homelessness, to outreach programs, to small businesses helping others. After a year of review and meeting people all around the city, O'Brien continued to see one similarity between all people in poverty: having difficulty getting out.

"They're trapped in a cycle...They're trapped in this cycle of poverty, not earning enough, and also living in neighborhoods that are besieged by poverty. There's a social isolation that goes on in our inner city...[are] there ways for them to combat it? Sure. Ways for them to make ends meet? Of course. But I think what I also found in doing the series is that our war on poverty and the programs that are out there are very limiting in terms of helping those that are in poverty," O'Brien said.