UWM study: More than half of Milwaukee’s Black men are out of work

Although the Great Recession has caused unemployment to rise among all groups of working-age people in the four-county Milwaukee area, the jobless rate for African American men in 2009 is the highest ever recorded, according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee (UWM).

At 53.3 percent, Black male joblessness in 2009 was nearly two-and-a-half times the rate of joblessness for White Milwaukee-area males (22.3 percent) between the ages of 16 and 64, reports a study by UWM’s Center for Economic Development (CED). In fact, the study found that Milwaukee’s abysmal jobless rate for African American men is second only to Detroit. And the metro area ranks first in the racial disparity of jobless rates among the nation’s top 40 urban areas, says Marc Levine, professor of history and CED senior fellow and founding director.

“Not only does joblessness among Black men in 2009 show a substantial increase – 13.4 percent from just the previous year – but since 1970, the Black male jobless rate in Milwaukee has more than doubled,” says Levine, who authored the report. The situation persists despite an increase in the number of African American men with high school diplomas and college degrees.

The recent recession is not the only factor to blame, says Levine. Milwaukee’s Black men already were plagued by unusually high unemployment, says Levine. Stagnant job growth has created a “stealth depression” in Milwaukee’s African American community for the last 40 years, with the worst erosion occurring since 2000.

Census data backs up the CED report, showing that Milwaukee was the fourthmost impoverished big city in America last year, behind Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo. Levine used a methodology that takes into account a segment of workers that is not tabulated in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ unemployment rates – those who are not looking for work because they are discouraged by chronically poor prospects. Levine, who has been tracking unemployment in this group for the last decade, adds that other factors account for the shrinking number of Black men actively seeking work – the rise of mass incarceration since 1970 and changes in disability laws that enable men who had been counted as unemployed to be shifted to disability rolls.

In the report he outlines ideas that could help alleviate the ever-worsening unemployment situation for African American men. Those include: Public job creation, including using federal funds for developing “green” jobs.

Drug policy reform. About 10 percent of Milwaukee’s African American men not in the workforce are in prison, mostly on drug offenses.

Enhanced job training and placement programs that include an adequately funded prisoner re-entry program. Public procurement rules that encourage purchasing from inner-city enterprises that hire African American men. Strategies that give inner city workers better access to suburban jobs.