The Milwaukee branch of the NAACP held a press conference Wed., June 22, to present a report on the devastating impact of segregation, job loss and the cycle of poverty and incarceration on African Americans in Milwaukee.
The “Occasional Report of the NAACP Milwaukee Branch” was prepared by R.L. McNeely, a lawyer and professor of social welfare at UWM; David Pate, UWM assistant professor of social work; and Lisa Ann Johnson, a bachelor’s degree candidate in social work at the university.
The report summarizes numerous local and national studies that paint a grim picture of prospects for African Americans in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) does these reports periodically to look at the quality of life and racial climate in the city.
Among the report’s key points:
- African American families headed by a married couple are an endangered institution, with fewer than three of 10 families headed by a husband and wife.
- African American families headed by a single mother can expect to earn less than one-third of what families headed by married African Americans earn.
- More than half of all African American males in Milwaukee between the ages of 16 and 64 are unemployed.
- The estimated high school graduation rate for African Americans enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools is only 40 percent, lagging far behind other major cities.
- Two out of three young African American men without a high school diploma will spend time in prison.
- Wisconsin has the secondhighest rate of black incarceration in the country, putting Blacks in prison at nearly 11 times the rate of whites. This further decreases the ability of Black males to find jobs. At the same time, the state is paying $716,589,270 per year on adult correctional facilities.
All of these and other factors, combined with Milwaukee’s “hypersegregation,” are having a devastating impact on the growth and maturation of African American children and destroying urban neighborhoods, say the report’s authors.
“The statistical data in this report confirm what many Milwaukeeans have concluded from anecdotal incidents and media reports,” says Barbara Becker, first vice president of the Milwaukee Branch, NAACP, and a member of the NAACP’s steering committee. “The circumstances for black families in Milwaukee are dire, with obstacles stacked in layers both for males, and in turn. for females trying to raise children. This is a wake-up call requiring new ways of thinking to begin to turn this around. We cannot afford to put this out of our minds and shrug our shoulders. This is not a black problem, this is a problem that all of us who live here share. It requires ‘us,’ not ‘them,’ solutions.”
While the report paints a bleak picture, it also suggests some possible starting points for improvement. The report mentions the work of “dedicated public school teachers” and notes that students enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools outperform students enrolled in voucher schools in both mathematics and reading. Educational achievement for African American students is particularly strong in the city’s Montessori schools, the report notes.
The study urges more education as essential for employment opportunities in 21st century Milwaukee , noting the growing number of health care and other service-industry jobs that require more than unskilled or semiskilled backgrounds. “For most individuals with children, completion of, at least, an associate’s degree, will be required for a reasonable standard of living.”
The report encourages support for more Black entrepreneurial activity as one way to offset high levels of unemployment. The report also urges educational and transitional programs to help African American males move from prison back into gainful employment, citing a number of successful pilot projects teaching entrepreneurship to African American men who’ve been in prison. The report notes that ex-offenders making more than $10 an hour are half as likely to return to prison as those making $7 or less per hour.
Copies of the report will be available for a small fee by contacting Barbara Becker at the NAACP, 414-562-1000, or stopping in at 2745 N. Martin Luther King Dr., Suite 203.