Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend Milwaukee’s State of the City address. The picture that was painted was both incomplete and inconsistent with many of the realities experienced by far too many Milwaukee residents. As I listened, much of the focus centered on the Democratic National Convention and the expected impact and engagement of the city leading up to those four days in mid-July.
As a former member of the DNC, I applaud the group of individuals who dreamt big and positioned Milwaukee to bid on the convention. But I must admit that I have heard the questions in the neighborhoods, churches and local businesses. After the cameras, delegates and the Democratic nominee leaves town, what’s the plan for Milwaukee over the next several years?
Because truth be told, we have some issues to deal with in this city. Unemployment in Milwaukee, is around 3.7%. However, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is three times higher than that of white Milwaukee area residents. The difference in those employment numbers is said to be the largest gap of any American metropolitan area. The net effect is that far too many residents don’t feel that economic opportunities are fairly and fully shared.
For more than 16 years, Milwaukee has been plagued by an inadequate response to removal of lead service lines. In 1992, we were told that we had 70,000 homes impacted by lead. To date, only 2,500 lead service lines have been replaced. In the State of the City Address, it was said that this year 150 more homes will be made lead-safe. At this pace, we will have replaced the remaining 67,000 or so lead service lines in 450 years.
So, whether it’s public safety, employment, access to affordable housing and on and on, the State of the City Address had some glaring holes in it. A more complete address would have also noted that we need to do something about the fact that Milwaukee ranks first as worst city in the country for African Americans.
Milwaukee is also the most racially segregated metro area in the nation. Further in those housing patterns, we have also discovered the unusually high incidence of evictions in the city as compared to other states.
We have real issues facing us, that are bigger than the DNC. Whether it’s underfunded budgets, a reduced property tax base, blighted properties, a street car without a dedicated source of funding, lower graduation rates, a lack of pathways to employment, disparate investment in black and brown neighborhoods, or a pipeline to incarceration that has brought us unwanted national attention, we’ve got work to do. The State of the City ended by saying that Milwaukee is heading in the right direction. I guess my question would be, for who?