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Sherman Park One Year Later: Job Picture Brightens

Marti Mikkelson
Community leaders called for jobs following unrest in the Sherman Park neighborhood

Efforts to connect people to jobs on Milwaukee’s north side jumped into high gear a year ago, after the unrest that broke out in the Sherman Park neighborhood.

It followed a police officer’s fatal shooting of a black man, Sylville Smith. Some people joined the protests, to also raise concerns about jobs and economic opportunity. After the dust settled, community leaders called for an end to the persistent unemployment that has plagued the north side.

WUWM examines the job outlook for the area one year later.

In the days following the unrest in the Sherman Park neighborhood, activists and elected officials took turns holding news conferences to address the outbreak. State lawmaker LaTonya Johnson was among them. Her district covers Sherman Park and other parts of the central city.

Johnson said the area is in desperate need of employment. “The people who live in this community deserve good paying jobs," she said.

Gov. Walker responded to the calls for help by committing $4.5 million to spur workforce development in the area. He made the announcement in Milwaukee on the day of Sylville Smith’s funeral.

“We still have pockets in the state, particularly here in Milwaukee and other areas that have unacceptably high levels of unemployment,” Walker said.

Some of the money Walker allocated went toward setting up mobile job centers in struggling neighborhoods. About $1 million went to Milwaukee-area companies to help them train workers in the central city. Another $2 million was used to employ young people to help rehab dozens of foreclosed homes. 

Credit Marti Mikkelson
North side residents are working to restore this and dozens of foreclosed homes in the Sherman Park neighborhood

Today, workers are drilling holes into a wall in one of those homes near Sherman Park. Raphael Sivongsa is a contractor who lives in the central city. He says he was able to use some of the money the state allocated to hire a handful of people to help restore the house. Sivongsa says he’s thrilled, because last summer he was struggling to find work.

“Not really unemployed but jobs were slow. It’s hard for a lot of people,” he says.

Another person who's glad to be working on the home is Madee Saenphonphakde. He says at this time last year, he was trying to cobble together odd jobs in his north side neighborhood. Now, he believes opportunities in the area are improving.

“It’s going to take a while before it gets better but we’re moving in the right direction, that’s for sure,” Saenphonphakde says.

“I think if you look at the jobs picture, in June 2016, the unemployment rate for the city of Milwaukee was roughly about 6.5 percent. Now, in 2017 we’re looking at 5 percent," state Sen. LaTonya Johnson says.

Johnson says the jobless rate is dropping, not just because of the work the state connected people to, but also because of big construction projects in the city. She says some of her constituents found work building the Northwestern Mutual tower downtown or the new Bucks Arena.

“Roughly 70 individuals were on that project, which is huge because these are jobs that are paying $30 an hour, these are definitely family sustaining wages,” Johnson says.

Yet Johnson says more needs to be done in order to make jobs available to many people who need them. She points to the 53206 zip code in particular. “It’s a zip code that has some of the highest negative rates associated, but it is one of those zip codes that has gotten the least amount of help,” Johnson says.

Johnson says other nagging issues include transportation to jobs located far from where people live. 

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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