Milwaukee ranks in economic middle of 18 peers


Study finds manufacturing job losses, but gains in other areas

By Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel

Dec. 5, 2010 |(10) Comments

We’re not Detroit.

But we’re sure not Minneapolis, either.

That’s the conclusion of a report to be released Monday, which ranks Milwaukee in the middle of the pack among 18 other cities and metro-area peers in the Midwest and Northeast.

“The Economic State of Milwaukee, 1990-2008” is a scorecard detailing how the city stacks up against its past, and against others on a range of issues, from employment to poverty to commuting time.

The report was written by Joel Rast, a political scientist and director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development.

“Clearly, we are not one of the top performers,” Rast writes in the conclusion. “Boston, Minneapolis, and a few other cities are possible candidates for that designation. However, neither are we consistently at the bottom of our rankings. Certain other cities such as Detroit and Buffalo fare worse than Milwaukee in many of the areas we examine.”

In many ways, the report provides a mixed picture of the city of Milwaukee and the wider metro area that includes Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties.

The report compares Milwaukee to cities and metropolitan areas that stretch from Boston; Newark, N.J.; Philadelphia; and Baltimore in the east to Kansas City; Omaha, Neb.; and Wichita, Kan., in the west.

Other areas in the survey include Buffalo; Pittsburgh; Cleveland; Detroit; Toledo, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Cincinnati; Indianapolis; St. Louis; Chicago; and Minneapolis.

While the Milwaukee metro area lost 30,000 manufacturing jobs from 1997 to 2007, it gained 10,000 jobs in accommodation and food services, held steady in retail trade and even saw some modest job growth in health care, recreation, the arts and entertainment.

Manufacturing accounted for $40 billion in sales in the metro area in 2007.

Among metropolitan areas surveyed, only Wichita, Omaha, Toledo and Buffalo had shorter average commute times than Milwaukee. In 2008, 29% of Milwaukee residents spent more than 30 minutes commuting to work, compared to half the commuters in Chicago.

The report pointed to Milwaukee’s persistent problems with poverty, income, the economic gap between the city and suburbs and racial inequality, including a pattern of segregation. The report says nearly 91% of the area’s African-American population lived in the central city. Of the areas surveyed, only Toledo and Wichita had a lower percentage of blacks in the suburbs.

In the Milwaukee area, the average city resident earns 67% of what a suburban resident earns.

The median household income of African-Americans is 45% of white household income in the metropolitan area, and only 12.4% of African-Americans 25 and older have a college degree.

The report notes that the area’s “comparatively small black middle class is a troublesome sign.”

“It suggests either that the earnings of most low- and moderate-income blacks are not improving measurably over time, or that black residents whose incomes and status have risen are leaving the area,” Rast writes.

Study online To read the entire study, go to http://www.4.uwm.edu/ced/.

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