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Watershed Study Analyzes State of Milwaukee's Latino Community


It probably comes as no surprise to hear that the Latino population in the Milwaukee area is skyrocketing. As with many cities around the country, people of Latino descent represent a much larger proportion of the population at large than at any other time in the nation’s history.

But for that basic statistic, the issues facing the Latino community in particular have been under-studied. That's all changed with the release of a watershed study. Latino Milwaukee: A Statistical Portrait was commissioned by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and conducted by UWM’s Center for Economic Development

"There's data out there, obviously the census provides us a lot. But what we heard from every person that we went and talked with, every leader in the Latino community, was that there is no comprehensive study like we were envisioning," says Marcus White, the foundation's vice president for civic engagement. "And frankly, what Marc [Levine] and his colleagues produced is far more comprehensive than we were even expecting."

Key findings from the study include:

- Metro Milwaukee’s Latino population increased by more than 213 percent between 1990 and 2014.
- Nearly 73 percent of Latinos in the Milwaukee region are U.S.-born citizens, a higher proportion than in most other large metropolitan areas.
- The number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the region grew by more than 82 percent to nearly 4,200 in a five-year span from 2007-2012. The rate of ownership in metro Milwaukee, however, remained the lowest of the 50 largest U.S. metro areas throughout that period.
- Metro Milwaukee is experiencing one of the widest “cultural generation gaps” in the country. Latinos constitute 15.4 percent of the under-18 population but only 2.7 percent of the over-65 demographic. By contrast, white non-Hispanic residents make up 86.7 percent of the over-65 population but only 54.1 percent of the under 18 population.
- More than 27 percent of all Latinos in the region live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty (where 40 percent or more of the population is poor). This measure is highly correlated with residential segregation, which is illustrated by data showing that an affluent Latino household making more than $100,000 a year is more likely to live in a concentrated poverty neighborhood than a poor, white non-Hispanic household earning less than $10,000 annually.
- Growth in the number of Latino schoolchildren in the metro area accounts for all of the net growth in K-12 enrollment in the region. At the same time, metro Milwaukee Latino students, to a greater extent than Latino students in any of the 50 largest metro areas, attend private schools.

Marc Levine, senior fellow and founding director of the Center for Economic Development, says that while the Latino population growth hasn't been as explosive as it has been in other cities like Houston or Charlotte, it has still tripled since the 1990s. When looking at younger generations, specifically children under five, the demographic changes become even more drastic. 

"For the first time that we've been able to find in census data, whites now constitute less than 50% of the population of the under 5 population," says Levine. And it seems that most of those children are living in the same neighborhoods. 

While segregation in Milwaukee is well-documented, most coverage focuses on the black and white divide. Although the Latino community isn't as segregated as others, it's still very high compared to other cities. Levine says that, plus issues of increased poverty and low wages, can result in a dearth of opportunities for Latinos. 

"We have this high level of segregation relative to other areas, and that in turn contributes segregation... in the schools, and the indicator that I talked about earlier, concentrated poverty," says Levine. "If you have, obviously, a high level of Latino poverty and it's concentrated by segregation in the central city, you're going to have a lot of neighborhoods in which 40% or more, of the Latino population is living below the poverty line."