Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Milwaukee's Economic Segregation Keeps The City Poor, Suburbs Rich

There's more data from the Census Bureau confirming that Milwaukee's concentrated poverty is surrounded by suburban communities with some of the fewest low-income residents in the nation.

This is why the lack of public transit that connects Milwaukee with the neighboring counties is so reprehensible, bordering on the criminal if you consider all citizens' rights to equal protection under the law, and due process, too.

We've had fifty years of willfully unbalanced public policy decision-making and transportation spending that keeps low-income Milwaukee residents disconnected from job growth in the suburbs and surrounding counties.

If that transportation spending were fair and balanced, those jobs, and perhaps (gasp!) housing, could be a bus ride away.

Or on a train link away - - another option ruled out by state and regional planners who have chosen to invest public funds disproportionately in highways that serve commuters with cars.

And more than 87,000 Milwaukeans do not have access to automobiles, which now cost more to operate, given spiking fuel costs.

How else can you explain our seven-county regional transportation plan being implemented by the state transportation department with $6.3 in public funding to rebuild and widen highways - - but not one transit line's funding, let alone expansion, in that package?

Neither Milwaukee County, Waukesha County or the state could find funding this year to keep bus line #9 alive, so the workers who used to get to their jobs near Milwaukee on that route were thrown back further onto their own, limited resources.

For commuters coming in from Waukesha County, however, we are moving faster to throw a half-billion dollars into a quickly rebuilt Zoo Interchange, and another $25 million is ticketed for a Waukesha County interstate ramp to serve an upscale shopping mall in Pabst Farms that may or may not be built.

There is even less direct bus service to New Berlin from Milwaukee since New Berlin began buying water from Milwaukee in 2003, despite expressions of concern and interest in transit improvements by New Berlin officials during those negotiations.

Think that the City of Waukesha will propose linking its planned water purchase from Milwaukee with better transit connections?

Right now, if you want to travel by bus (forget a train) between the two cities' downtowns, your option is Greyhound.

It is this constant diminution of transit, and disconnection of workers from suburban employment, that keeps incomes in Milwaukee low and unemployment high.

It's not an accident.

And it also coincided with white flight in the 1950's, when the state legislature also passed a special, one-of-a-kind state law that froze Milwaukee's borders, thus limiting the city's boundaries and the economic opportunities of what would then become its large and growing low-income population

Economic apartheid is not too strong a phrase to describe our region's reality, and it is among the reasons that the Southeastern Wisconsin keeps showing up on these embarrassing segregation indicies and charts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

James, this is a great synopsis of some of the systematic yet subtle means to discriminate not only for racial purposes but against class or income levels.
It is significant & ironic that WI's DMV is the place one has to appear in person in order to obtain their voter ID card. One of the valid identifiers for the voter ID card is a passport (Who can travel in & out of the country if they hardly have the means to get across town?). After several DMV offices closed it is harder to get to those offices during their now limited hours and locations especially for those who work. For example someone who is handicapped--blind for example--may have to find someone willing to take them and wait in line during those hours.
The many ways to discriminate are embedded in WI's system and doing battle with those invisible demons on a daily basis leads to deep frustrations, anxieties and feelings of desperation & disenfranchisement. We need to pull back the curtain & take a look as You have done here in order to eradicate this serious social disease.