As a Milwaukee-an, always hearing about Milwaukee, Waukesha, West Allis, and even Racine being one of the worst place for black people to live has been the norm for a very long time. It’s like yes, we hear about our city being rough for us, yet living in it seems to be so comforting at times. Milwaukee is one of those places where many people feel “stuck”.
Most people who grow up here never leave mainly because of finances alone. Milwaukee is a place where people feel trapped. For instance, with poverty levels being so low and unemployment rates being so high, most people can barely make ends meet just to pay bills— let alone someone looking to save some money.
According to 24/7 Wall St, Milwaukee is one of the many “Rust Belt” cities where a history of redlining, exclusionary zoning, and discriminatory lending practices has contributed to segregation. That remains today and to some of the largest racial disparities in income, health, and other socioeconomic measures in the country.
While nationwide 16.8% of black Americans live in predominantly black neighborhoods, 35.2% of black Milwaukee residents do.
The typical black household in Milwaukee earns just $29,928 a year, 43.8% of the median income of $66,097 among white households. Income is one of the primary correlates of health and longevity, and in Milwaukee, 1,020 in every 100,000 black residents die every year — over 300 more deaths per 100,000 than the white mortality rate, one of the largest disparities nationwide.
These facts show us just how real discrimination and racism is right here in our city. How else is it that blacks earn less than half of whites income?
As a writer/reporter I’ve personally had the opportunity to interview many elders in the city and I always ask about the biggest struggles they’ve had throughout their journeys and it almost always comes back to race and limited opportunities.
For instance, I’ve been told stories of how black people weren’t even allowed to purchase property in certain neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods were rent friendly for us but ownership was a no go. Thus bringing our homeownership rates to 27.8% in comparison to the 68.2% (whites).
When we look at the unemployment rates the irony is the same. 13.9% of unemployment statistics are black while a whopping 3.9% are white. Granted after the riots in 1967, they built Interstate 43 in the middle of many black owned businesses. Needless to say their businesses were destroyed.
Today Milwaukee is a place where black people have learned to worry more about themselves and less about their community. We rarely come together and congratulate one another. We barely walk past each other with a “hello”. It has a very negative demeanor about itself. It’s almost as if we’ve lost hope.
Our city is hurting, grieving, and frustrated. We’re stressed out weak from having to be so strong. But what I do love about our city is that we all haven’t given up. Some of us work hard daily to make a difference. Some of us are dedicated to the work at hand.
I believe if we can collectively take things one day at a time— helping one another get to the top instead of the crab in a barrel mentality, we can go far. Nonetheless Milwaukee has a story to tell and it’s time for us to tell it.