Friday, October 7, 2011

Milwaukee still leads nation in black-white jobs gap

Milwaukee remained among the toughest metro areas in America for black people to find work in 2010, according to new federal estimates.

For complete tables, click here.  
Metro jobless rates by race for last year have recently come out, and the black rate for Milwaukee is 25.6%, on its face the second worst rate in the nation. What’s more, the gap between how blacks and whites fared job-wise is on its face wider in Milwaukee than in any other major metro area.

The caution you may hear is because wide margins of error (due to small samples) make the federal estimates fuzzier than the percentage points imply. Thus, the Milwaukee black unemployment rate was likely somewhere between 23.2% and 29.8%, putting Brew City in a statistical 10-way tie for the worst black jobless rate among 53 major metro areas in the nation.

But don’t breathe a sigh of relief, Milwaukee. Almost every year over the last quarter century, the federal data put Milwaukee at or near the top in worst black unemployment  rate and in widest gap between white and black rates – a pattern suggesting the high ranking is no fluke.

Here are some general reasons for that ranking (reasons that admittedly raise more questions than they answer):

Source of data: U.S.Bureau
of Labor Statistics
·         Shuttered factories. It’s no accident that, of the 10 worst areas for black people to find jobs, five – Milwaukee, Buffalo, Detroit, Minneapolis and Rochester, N.Y. – are part of the old northern Rust Belt, where abandoned or reconverted factories only hint at the prosperity that once was. Those factories used to be the mainstay of black employment. Their collapse idled black workers by the legions. Whites, in contrast, were not quite as reliant on manufacturing for their livelihood. What’s more, white blue collar workers had better luck finding new jobs, albeit often with pay cuts, than did black workers.
·         Hypersegregation. No matter how you measure it, blacks and whites live more apart in the Milwaukee metro area than in almost any other metro area in the nation. One historic purpose of racial segregation is to make it easier to discriminate against black people. You could put the “whites” sign over the good water fountain and the “colored” sign over the bad one. Hence, jobs are cropping up mostly in outlying areas, where white people live almost exclusively, rather than in the metro core, where the vast bulk of the area’s African Americans resides.
·         Lack of transit. Many black workers lack the means to get to the new outlying jobs. They lack cars or legitimate driver’s licenses, and public transit doesn’t get them there.
·         Young black brain drain. Anecdotal evidence suggests that young, talented African Americans are steadily fleeing Milwaukee because they feel they don’t get a fair shake from the town’s business community. Indeed, the management of private businesses in metro Milwaukee ranks among the least racially diverse in the nation. The brain drain lessens the pool of black workers who could hold professional or skilled or managerial jobs or start their own enterprises.
·         School ills. Schools that don’t work and students who don’t do the work are certainly factors—but overrated ones, in my opinion. No question, we need to fix the schools and prod students to perform, so that young people will be better prepared to hold jobs. Still, were black high school grads merely to get the same job opportunities that white high school dropouts get, the black jobless rate would decline, and the argument that a diploma pays would gain more force among young people. Nationally last year, among workers 25 years old and up, African Americans with high school diplomas had an unemployment rate of 15.8%, which compared to 13.9% for white dropouts. Now imagine the even greater change were black grads to be treated more like white grads, who boasted an unemployment rate of 9%.

Another reason used to be proffered, particularly by conservative talking heads: the welfare state. Wisconsin’s generous welfare benefits were said to somehow cause high black unemployment in Milwaukee. That analysis ignored one relevant detail: To be counted as unemployed, you have to be looking for work. So if you were lounging at home, eating bonbons, watching “Oprah,” and not looking (the image the talking heads liked to paint), you wouldn’t be added to the unemployment rolls. Still, high black unemployment was among the many ills Wisconsin’s welfare reform was touted to cure.

Wisconsin dumped Aid to Families with Dependent Children and started Wisconsin Works, one of the stingiest welfare programs in the country for needy moms and their kids. Almost all public aid is tied to work. The sky-high black jobless rate persists in metro Milwaukee, nonetheless.


  1. More dismal facts for the black community to digest. Blacks seem to rank highest in all the worst categories: unemployment, crime, income, home ownership, single-parent homes, etc. etc. How many more years, centuries even, will it take for blacks to get on equal footing with their white counterparts?