Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Race Matters in Milwaukee – Part 3: The Effects of Milwaukee’s Segregation by Nathaniel Holton

Racial segregation is one branch in a thicket of economic and quality of life issues that together form the challenges of the day for Milwaukee. As Part 2 of the series suggested and as various researchers have shown, segregation is both cause and effect of such challenges as income disparity, wealth accumulation, brain drain, unemployment, education disparities, health disparities, and so on.

Oftentimes it seems that civic leaders don’t talk of the problems of racial segregation, and instead focus on non race-centered issues that relate to it, such as jobs and education. These are more tangible and politically sensible, but the fact of the matter is that Milwaukee’s thicket of issues is a package deal, and ignoring racial segregation imperils efforts to attack the issues that relate to it. Jobs aren’t gained or lost in a vacuum, and our childrens’ education can’t be separated from the structure of the communities that our children reside in. For Milwaukee to truly move on its issues, the battle against segregation has to be waged alongside the battle for jobs and education.

To make this point clear, information on segregation and income described in earlier articles in the series can be viewed together to see how they are connected. The metric used for segregation in the graphs below is the average metro black/white segregation ranking, which was taken from the U.S Census Bureau’s study on segregation (see Part I). In this metric, recall that metro Milwaukee was ranked as #1, the most segregated metro area in the country.

In the graphs below, each blue dot represents a different metro area and the trend line shows the overall correlation between segregation and the other statistic. Also, each graph can be clicked on to see a larger view.

Black Income



Segregation can most easily be connected to black family income. As previously discussed, low average incomes in the black community bring about segregation. Meanwhile, segregation decreases black income in part because it limits access to employment.

The connection between segregation and black income is significant. If a city were to improve by ten spots in the segregation rankings (e.g. going from 1st to 11th), that would correlate to a rise in black median family income of over $3,800 per year.

This is not surprising. In the famous Gautreaux housing mobility experiment, statistically identical groups of low income families were either assigned to live in low-income housing in segregated areas or were given vouchers to live in mostly white suburbs. Those families that moved to the suburbs saw higher employment, higher income, and better results in education compared to the families that remained in segregated environments.

Income Disparity

Segregation decreases the black community’s piece of the pie. Seven of the top ten metro areas that had the worst income disparity were also in the top ten for most segregated metro areas. One of the three exceptions, Kansas City, is just outside of the top ten, at 11th most segregated. If you want the black community to stay poor relative to whites, keep the black community highly segregated.

Gross Domestic Product

While decreasing segregation correlates with higher black income, what needs to be emphasized is the fact that decreasing segregation benefits the entire metro area. Gross domestic product (GDP) is a measure of economic activity for a metro area. Since metro areas with larger populations will naturally have more economic activity than metro areas with smaller populations, GDP per capita* can be used to make apples-to-apples comparisons between metro areas. When politicians talk about growing the economy, they are talking about increasing Milwaukee’s GDP per capita.

Less segregated places tend to have stronger economies than more segregated places. For the average metro area, a ten spot improvement in the segregation rankings correlates with a GDP per capita increase of over $1,600 per year. Suburban communities suspicious of any talk of decreasing segregation should be apprised of this.

* The number used here is the average metro GDP per capita between 2001 and 2008, in chained 2001 dollars.

White Income

Those who have put in hard work trying to uplift the black community often run into resistance from suburbs that consider community uplifting proposals to be a direct attack on their own quality of life and well-being. However, it has to be stressed that decreasing segregation benefits everyone, this doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. Good strategies that reduce segregation would directly benefit white households as well as black households. A ten spot improvement in the segregation rankings translates to an increase in white median household income of over $1,300 per year.

Racial Animus

Advancing mutually beneficial policies that would decrease segregation requires the entire community to understand that they have something to gain from this effort. Unfortunately, in a catch-22, metro Milwaukee’s segregation separates people and makes it difficult for us to see our shared fate.

Ever since the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel opened up comments on its online articles, there have been many examples of the sorts of outrageously ignorant, racially-tinged comments that could only be made by individuals who have no understanding or experience with people who don’t look like them. Here are a few unedited examples:

I suggest building an enormous wall with borders of 43 to the east, 94 to the south, 84th st to the west and brown deer to the north and then pull all city services out of that area and let the inhabitants figure it out for themselves. I’m so sick of hearing how bad they have it and about the terrible crime it is such BS. Stop making excuses for your inability to pull yourselves up by your bootstraps like every other immigrant that came to america over our 235 year history. Even the mexicans have made something of themselves, they might be just as violent but at least they aren’t lazy and many of them can’t get welfare so they bust their asses trying to make a better life for their families.

-poundsb27, 2/27/2010, City’s mean streets hard on young blacks

This is a character issue and all about common decency; a civil society must follow the rules that are in place. It just so happens that the people in this society that have the most problem with common decency are black. Its just a fact, society has to deal with this every day.”

-OneTug, 3/1/2010, MPS, Ald Will Wade butt heads over hat removal policy

Get all these stupid liberals together in one spot, load them on a bus, and ship them all out of town. When the hell are blacks gonna stop ruining the city and get their crap together?

-SkylarTatlock, 3/1/2010, MPS, Ald Will Wade butt heads over hat removal policy

We can only work together on our problems when we can look at our fellow citizens and see a reflection of ourselves. Decreasing segregation would help increase this sort of shared understanding, but increasing the shared understanding is required to collectively agree to do something about segregation. It’s a chicken and egg problem.

Job Growth

With good reason, Milwaukee’s most preeminent civic leaders are falling over each other talking about jobs. Whether by advocating for the magic of tax cuts or by celebrating the bribery of businesses, jobs are the main issue. But in case we start losing sight of the forest for the trees, or the rhetoric and ribbon cutting for the reality, we need to note that metro Milwaukee lost over 30,000 civilian jobs from December 2007 to December 2009. Jobs are obviously critical. Creating them and obtaining the socioeconomic benefit that comes with higher employment will be fleeting at best if Milwaukee’s segregation is not addressed.

Milwaukee’s job loss since the beginning of the recession (December 2007) represents a 3.85% decrease in the number of civilian jobs in the metro area. Most communities have been hit hard by the Great Recession, but as always seems to be the case, Milwaukee has been hit harder than most others. No local politician can control local job growth. The global economy can and does overwhelm even the best laid local plans at a moment’s notice. Local leaders can only be responsible for ensuring that Milwaukee fares better through the ups and downs of the global economy than other metro areas. Instead of making promises that only an uncontrollable global economy can make good on, our local leaders should be working on ensuring that metro Milwaukee outperforms our competitors.

In this effort, our local leaders have failed. Metro Milwaukee had the 6th worst civilian job loss amongst the 36 cities that were measured on segregation. Using a different metric and comparing metro Milwaukee to the 38 areas that have a workforce of at least 750,000, Milwaukee had the 3rd worst job loss in 2009.

The reasons for this are surely complex, but what has to be understood is that Milwaukee’s segregation puts it at a competitive disadvantage in today’s global market. Until it is adequately addressed, we will continue to see metro Milwaukee underperform relative to other cities.

This post originally appeared in The Milwaukee Drum on March 8, 2010.

5 Comments
Topics: Demographic Analysis, Economic Development
Cities: Milwaukee
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5 Responses to “Race Matters in Milwaukee – Part 3: The Effects of Milwaukee’s Segregation by Nathaniel Holton”

  1. Chris Barnett says:

    Trying to correlate ordinal rank and actual measures is not a good practice.

    If the x-axis of the above graphs had the actual calculated “segregation coefficient” instead of the “rank”, the plots would show real mathematical relationships and the correlations (if any) would have some degree of predictive power.

    As presented, the correlations are not particularly valid indicators, especially where the data points are highly variable.

  2. Nathaniel Holton says:

    Thanks Chris. I agree completely and regret the methodology of this particular piece, which I put together a good year and half ago. There is a more recent post concerning educational attainment that will appear on the Urbanophile soon, and it uses the actual “segregation coefficient” and includes correlation measurements as well.

  3. Peter G. Conrad says:

    It would be good to see some measure of confidence included as the last three graphs are not located very tightly around the regression line making it look like the link between per capita GDP, white income and job growth with racial segregation is not particularly strong.

    Can this be posted with the other metro areas identified?

  4. Chris Barnett says:

    Nathaniel, I apologize for the chastising tone of my comment. I’ll look forward to seeing your new charts. And I agree with Peter Conrad: identifying the other cities charted may be useful.

    I am Caucasian and work in community economic development in a largely African-American neighborhood. I see the circular effects of historic and lingering racism and segregation every day.

    But it has become increasingly clear to me the approaches that work are actually color-blind and personal: Asset-based community development that is centered on individualized attention to people who want to change their lives.

  5. John says:

    Those are some very scattered scatter-plots. I look forward to seeing some confidence intervals or t-stats or something in the next post.

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