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UW-Milwaukee - Center for Economic Development

Policy Research Report Abstract

The Economic State of Milwaukee: The City and the Region, May 1998, by Marc V. Levine, with Sandra J. Callaghan

Executive Summary

The Economic State of Milwaukee: The City and the Region is designed to give citizens and policymakers a systematic collection of economic information on which to base a judgment about how our economy is performing.

In this report, we have assembled data on over 350 indicators of city and metropolitan area economic health, some stretching as far back as the 1950s, to give a sense of both the long-term and more recent trends in this community. Data has been compiled on key areas of economic well-being: employment, unemployment, and job growth; sectoral trends; income, wages, and earnings; poverty; education; unionization; and minority economic development.

On each of these indicators, the report looks at the city of Milwaukee and metro Milwaukee's performance over time, as well as in comparison to 13 other large, Frostbelt cities and metropolitan areas. In this fashion, we can observe how well Milwaukee's economic performance stacks up against comparable cities and regions. The key findings of the report are as follows:

Chapter 1: Population Trends

  • Since reaching its peak in 1960, the city of Milwaukee has lost 20.2% of its population;

  • Although the city has lost population since the 1960s, its population losses were less than all but three big Frostbelt cities. Milwaukee ranked 4th of the 14 Frostbelt cities examined in "population performance" between 1970 and 1996;

  • Among Frostbelt metropolitan areas, Milwaukee's population growth has been modest, ranking consistently in the bottom half of Frostbelt metropolises in the rate of population growth since the 1960s. Overall, since 1970, metro Milwaukee's population has increased only 3.8%, ranking the region 10th of 14 Frostbelt metropolises in the rate of population growth;

  • All of the region's net population growth since 1960 has occurred in the suburbs, whose population has increased by 61.3% since 1960. Milwaukee's suburbs, however, have grown much more slowly than suburbs in other Frostbelt metropolises, ranking 8th of 14 between 1970 and 1996;

  • The city share of the Milwaukee region's population has declined from 73.2% in 1950 to 40.5% in 1996. However, in relative terms, Milwaukee ranked 3rd among the Frostbelt metropolises in the regional share of population living in the central city in 1996.

Chapter 2: General Urban and Metropolitan Economic Indicators

  • Metro Milwaukee's "gross metropolitan product" increased at an average annual rate of 1.93% between 1980-1992. This ranked 8th among the 14 Frostbelt metropolises;

  • Service sector growth has been much more rapid in the Milwaukee suburbs than the central city. However, in 1992 the city of Milwaukee ranked 4th among the 14 Frostbelt big cities in the city share of regional service receipts. The city of Milwaukee ranked 3rd of 14 in the growth of service receipts between 1987 and 1992; metro Milwaukee ranked 4th of 14 during the same period;

  • Manufacturing payroll has plummeted, in inflation-adjusted dollars, by 50% in the city of Milwaukee since 1972. However, the city ranked 4th among 14 Frostbelt big cities in manufacturing payroll growth between 1987-1992. Metro Milwaukee ranked 7th of 14 during the same period. In 1992, the city of Milwaukee ranked 4th of 14 in its share of regional manufacturing payroll. On the whole, despite pronounced deindustrialization, the city of Milwaukee has done relatively better at conserving its industrial base than most Frostbelt big cities.

  • Retail sales have fallen, in real terms, by 31.7% in the city of Milwaukee since 1972; they have increased by 43.0% in the suburbs. The city share of regional retail sales has dropped from 58.4% in 1967 to 29.2% in 1992. The city ranks 6th of 14 in retail sales growth between 1987-1992; the metropolitan area ranks 8th of 14. The city of Milwaukee ranks 3rd of 14 in the city share of regional retail sales;

  • Among Frostbelt metropolises, Milwaukee ranks 8th of 14 in the value of exports per worker;

  • Milwaukee ranks 4th among 13 Frostbelt big cities in the downtown share of regional office space. Office vacancies in metropolitan Milwaukee in 1997 were the second-highest in the Frostbelt.

Chapter 3: Income, Earnings, and Inequality

  • Real per capita income growth has been sluggish in metropolitan Milwaukee since 1970, with an annualized growth rate of 1.65% (compared to 2.84% in the 1960s);

  • Among Frostbelt metropolitan areas, only Cleveland had a lower rate of real per capita income growth between 1970 and 1995;

  • When controlling for differences in regional costs of living, Milwaukee ranked 5th among the 14 major Frostbelt metropolitan areas in per capita income in 1995;

  • The city of Milwaukee ranked 12th of 14 Frostbelt big cities in real per capita income growth between 1970-1990. Real per capita income in the city grew by a tiny 3.7% over the twenty years;

  • Real per capita income in the Milwaukee suburbs grew at ten times the rate of the city between 1970-1990 (37.8%). Compared to suburbs in other Frostbelt regions, suburban Milwaukee ranks 7th of 14 in the rate of real per capita income growth;

  • When controlling for differences in costs of living, the city of Milwaukee ranked 9th of 14 Frostbelt big cities in per capita income in 1990; suburban Milwaukee ranked 2nd of 14 Frostbelt suburbs in this category in 1990;

  • Per capita income in the city of Milwaukee, as a percentage of the suburban figure, fell from 83.6% in 1970 to 63.4% in 1990. In 1990, Milwaukee ranked 12th among 14 Frostbelt cities, trailed only by Detroit and Cleveland, in the disparity between city and suburban per capita income;

  • Real median family income fell by 18.0% in the city of Milwaukee between 1970 and 1990, placing Milwaukee 12th of 14 Frostbelt big cities in real family income "growth" during this period;

  • Real median family income rose by 2.0% in metro Milwaukee between 1970 and 1990, placing Milwaukee 12th of 14 metropolises in the rate of real income growth during this period. However, when controlling for cost of living differences, metro Milwaukee ranked 5th of 14 in 1990 in median family income;

  • The inflation-adjusted average wage per job in metropolitan Milwaukee declined by 7.1% between 1970 and 1996. Only metropolitan Cleveland had a larger decline among large Frostbelt metropolises;

  • Pay-per-employee in metro Milwaukee manufacturing declined, in inflation-adjusted dollars, by 9.4% between 1972 and 1992. Milwaukee ranked last (14th) among Frostbelt metropolises in this category in 1992, falling from a ranking of 6th of 14 in 1967;

  • No other city of metropolitan area approached the rate of decline in Milwaukee in real family income for blacks between 1970 and 1990. No other city or metropolitan area approached Milwaukee's racial gap in the rate of family income growth during this period;

  • Black median family income in metro Milwaukee fell from 65.1% of white family income in 1970, to 39.5% in 1990. By 1990, Milwaukee ranked last-14th of 14-in the Frostbelt in this category;

  • Although overall income inequality has grown in the city and region since 1970, Milwaukee has among the lower rates of inequality of Frostbelt metropolises and cities.

Chapter 4: Poverty

  • On no indicator examined in this report, in absolute or comparative terms, did Milwaukee's economy show as dramatic deterioration in the 1980s as poverty;

  • Between 1970 and 1990, the city of Milwaukee's poverty rate nearly doubled. In 1970, Milwaukee ranked 2nd best in the Frostbelt in its poverty rate; by 1990, we had slipped to 9th of 14;

  • The poverty rate for black Milwaukeeans reached 41.2% in 1990, four times the white rate. In 1990, Milwaukee ranked worst in the Frostbelt (14th of the 14 cities) in the rate of black poverty;

  • In 1990, over 43% of city residents lived in census tracts in which at least one-fifth of the population fell below the poverty line. Milwaukee ranked 13th among the 14 Frostbelt cities in residents living in "extreme poverty" neighborhoods (census tracts in which at least 40% of the residents fell below the poverty line);

  • The proportion of metropolitan Milwaukee blacks living in high poverty neighborhoods rose from 8.4% in 1970 to 46.7% in 1990. By 1990, metro Milwaukee had the highest proportion of blacks living in high poverty neighborhoods of any metropolitan area in the Frostbelt.

Chapter 5: Employment, Unemployment, and Job Growth

  • Compared to other Frostbelt metropolises, metropolitan Milwaukee has experienced moderate employment growth since 1970. During the 1990s, metro Milwaukee ranks 5th among the 14 in employment growth.

  • Employment performance in services and manufacturing since the late 1960s places metro Milwaukee in the middle of the pack of Frostbelt metropolises. Job growth in retail trade, however, has lagged here behind most Frostbelt metropolitan areas.

  • The city of Milwaukee ranks 5th among the 14 Frostbelt big cities in manufacturing employment performance (1967-1992), 7th in services, and 5th in retail trade.

  • Milwaukee's suburbs rank 4th among suburbs in the 14 Frostbelt metropolises in manufacturing employment performance (1967-1992), 4th in services, and 5th in retail trade.

  • Like all central cities in the Frostbelt, the city of Milwaukee has declined markedly since the late 1960s as the employment hub of its region. However, in relative terms, the city of Milwaukee has done substantially better than most Frostbelt big cities in holding a share of regional employment. Milwaukee ranks 4th of the 14 in the city share of regional manufacturing employment, 5th of the 14 in services, and 3rd of 14 in retail trade.

  • In 1998, metro Milwaukee has the 5th lowest unemployment rate of the 14; the city of Milwaukee has the 5th lowest.

  • The black unemployment rate doubled in both the metropolitan area and city between 1970 and 1990. BLS data from 1996 suggest that the black unemployment has declined in both the city and region during the 1990s.

  • The disparity between black and white unemployment rates in metropolitan Milwaukee remains the widest in the Frostbelt, as has been the case since 1970.

Chapter 6: Unionization

  • The overall rate of unionization declined by 11.3% in metropolitan Milwaukee between 1986 and 1996. The decline was 18.0% for private sector workers.

  • Milwaukee ranked 3rd in the Frostbelt in 1996 in the unionized proportion of the regional labor force; of the region's manufacturing workers were unionized in 1996, placing metro Milwaukee 4th among Frostbelt metropolises;

  • Unionized workers earned 20.8% more than their non-union counterparts in metro Milwaukee in 1996. This "union premium" was the 4th widest in the Frostbelt.

Chapter 7: Education

  • Metropolitan Milwaukee ranked 7th among the 14 Frostbelt metropolises in 1990 in the proportion of the population that attended four or more years of college. This represented a decline from 5th in 1970.

  • The city of Milwaukee ranked 12th among the 14 Frostbelt big cities in 1990 in the proportion of the population that attended four or more years of college. This represented a fall from 8th of 14 in 1970.

  • Milwaukee ranked 11th of 14 in 1990 in the "city-suburb gap" in the rate of college graduates in the population. Only in Detroit and Cleveland was the city percentage of the suburban rate lower than in Milwaukee.

  • Metropolitan Milwaukee ranked last in the Frostbelt (14th of 14) in 1990 in the gap between blacks and whites in the rate of college graduates in the adult population.

  • The city of Milwaukee ranked 5th of 14 Frostbelt big cities in per pupil public school spending in 1993.

Chapter 8: Women and Minority Business Development

  • When controlling for differences in minority population, Milwaukee ranked 11th among Frostbelt cities in the rate of minority-owned businesses; metro Milwaukee ranked 14th of 14 Frostbelt metropolitan areas in this category;

  • Metropolitan Milwaukee ranked 13th of 14 Frostbelt metropolitan areas in the rate of black representation in management positions;

  • Milwaukee ranked 10th of 14 Frostbelt big cities in the rate of women-owned businesses and 12th of 14 metropolitan areas in this category;

  • Metropolitan Milwaukee ranked 14th of 14 Frostbelt metropolises in the rate of female representation in management positions.

The complete report is available in HTML format on this site. Interested individuals can also order the report by contacting the UWMCED (see the CED Publications page for ordering information).

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