Wednesday, October 6,2010
More Bad Job Numbers for Milwaukee’s Black Men
UWM study confirms persistent racial gap, despite diplomas
How bad is Milwaukee’s employment picture?
It’s so bad that the average black man in Milwaukee is more likely to be jobless than employed, according to new data from UW-Milwaukee’s Center for Economic Development.
Professor Marc Levine’s study shows that in 2009, 53% of Milwaukee’s black men were jobless, up from 47% in 2008 and the highest level recorded in the city since these statistics started being kept in 1970.
The “jobless rate” is a measurement that includes men who are officially unemployed as well as those who are disabled, incarcerated, voluntarily unemployed or retired and discouraged workers who have given up looking for work. This more-inclusive measurement is higher than the official unemployment rate.
The high level of joblessness is not the only bad news for Milwaukee’s black men. According to Levine’s study:
Joblessness among black men in their prime working years, between 25 and 54, jumped from 36% to 44% from 2008 to 2009.
- Improved high-school graduation rates aren’t holding down black male unemployment. The number of high-school graduates for those over the age of 25 has increased from 34% in 1970 to 75% in 2009. But the jobless rate for black men in their prime earning years has tripled during the same period.
- The racial gap in joblessness has tripled since 1970, from an 11% gap to a 31% gap in joblessness between white men and black men.
- The Great Recession has hit Milwaukee’s black men harder than white men. While Milwaukee lost almost 20,000 jobs, white males are faring better in Milwaukee than those in “thriving” cities around the country. Black men, on the other hand, are doing better elsewhere than in Milwaukee.
Suburban Segregation and Incarceration Policies
In an interview with the Shepherd, Levine said the greatest factor in the persistent racial gap is “entrenched segregation,” as he put it.
As of 2008, 38% of the city of Milwaukee’s population is African American, while 25% of Milwaukee County is African American.
Compare that to the 2000 U.S. Census figures for Waukesha County, which is 96% white and 0.73% African American; Ozaukee County, which is 97% white and 0.2% African American; and Washington County, which is 98% white and 0.4% African American.
“We have the lowest rate of black suburbanization of any large metropolitan area in the country,” Levine said. “Since job growth has been a bit better in suburban areas than in central cities, the fact that we have so few African-American males living in the suburbs means that blacks don’t have ready access to where the jobs are.”
David Pate, an assistant professor at UWM’s Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, said the jobless black men he’s been studying say that they feel uncomfortable when they apply for jobs in all-white suburbs.
“They feel that they’re under a microscope,” Pate said. “They’ve told me, ‘I’m not wanted there. Why should I keep bothering to apply for a job there?’”
Levine also pointed to the high incarceration rate for black men in Milwaukee.
“We have a criminal justice policy for young black men, not an employment policy,” Levine said.
Levine suggested that improved regional transit, job training and a “Marshall Plan” for public works jobs would help to boost black men’s job prospects.
Local businesses and governments should have a “buy locally, hire locally” policy, Levine added.
In 2009, the Milwaukee Common Council passed the MORE Ordinance, which had been spearheaded by the Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Coalition.
The ordinance requires all private development projects seeking more than $1 million in public assistance to prioritize the hiring of workers from the city who are unemployed or underemployed and to seek contracts from emerging or local businesses before contracting with other vendors.