2004 Milwaukee Neighborhood Indicators: Recommendations
by Lois M. Quinn and John Pawasarat, Employment and Training Institute, University
of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2004.
Reports on Indicators of
Employment and Economic Well-Being of Families in Central City
Milwaukee Neighborhoods have
been prepared by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment
and Training Institute since 1998. These studies are designed to provide an independent, timely
and ongoing assessment tool to measure short-term and long-term progress toward improving
economic and employment well-being of families in central city Milwaukee neighborhoods.
Community agencies assist in identifying key areas of concern. City, county and state agencies
cooperate in securing databases needed for the analysis. Funding for this year's indicators
reports was provided by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and the City of Milwaukee
Community Development Block Grant Program.
The most recent individual community
ZIP codes 53204, 53205, 53206, 53208, 53210, 53212, 53216, 53218, and 53233.
Policy issues raised by the findings and related to delivery of public services include the
Single Parents in the Labor Force But Without Full-Time Work
- In spite of high unemployment rates, the number of single parent tax filers (with
dependents) in the workforce was higher last tax year than in 1998. However, state income tax
records suggest that almost two-thirds (65 percent) of single parents with income below poverty
are employed less than 70 percent time and a third (32 percent) are employed less than half time
or less than half-year. One of the biggest workforce development challenges remains the
need for initiatives to help single parents already in the labor force to increase their hours of
employment and the consistency of their employment.
Neighborhood Outreach for Food Stamps, BadgerCare, "W-2," and EIC
- Differences in numbers of Milwaukee families receiving family and worker
benefits within neighborhoods suggest that neighborhood block areas should be identified where
outreach could be targeted to increase eligible families' receipt of EIC, food stamps,
medical assistance, and/or "W-2" benefits programs. In the past, the Employment and
Training Institute has identified Milwaukee blocks where numbers of families appeared eligible
for specific benefits programs (e.g., food stamps) but were not currently claiming them.
Additional Home Ownership Supports for Single-Parent Buyers
- Home ownership rates have remained steady in the central city, in spite of the
economic downturns, with 82 percent of single family homes owner-occupied and 53 percent of
duplexes owner-occupied. The indicators suggest that the most likely populations of new
homeowners for the affordable housing available are single-parent female-headed households
who have increased their level of employment. In addition to financial assistance for the
home purchase and monthly mortgage payments, many single parent home buyers need
continuing assistance and advice regarding home maintenance and repair work.
Reducing Driver's License Suspensions for Failure to Pay Fines and Forfeitures
- The number of central city residents with driver's license suspensions for
failure to pay fines and civil forfeitures ("driving while poor") continued to show all-time
increases, with 4 times as many central city residents losing their licenses over fines (51,135 in
2002) than for traffic violations, driving while intoxicated, and drug convictions combined
(12,432). The UWM Employment and Training Institute's most recent job openings survey in
October 2003 showed 21 active job seekers for every one full-time job in the CDBG
neighborhoods. Yet, the lack of a valid driver's license continues to prevent many central city
workers from accessing available jobs in the suburban and exurban areas and draws residents
(and particularly African American males) into the court system. Further initiatives are
needed to restore valid driver's licenses to city residents and to enforce municipal fine
collections through means that do not restrict workers' access to jobs.
Loss of EIC Payments to "Refund Anticipation Loans"
- The federal and state earned income tax credits (EIC) brought about $82.7
million into the community for 2002 tax returns (filed in 2003). However, over half (about 57
percent) of those receiving the EIC borrowed against their tax returns through "refund
anticipation loans," meaning that significant portions of the EIC returns are siphoned off to tax
preparation and financing companies rather than the families in need. State legislation
appears needed to regulate RAL loans (at least for the state EIC) and to require
more stringent reporting to families of the money they lost through the short-term
borrowing. For example, lender tax firms might be required to provide a "truth in RAL"
form reporting the dates that the lender received the family's IRS and DOR refund checks, the
total EIC amount the family would have received had they not borrowed against their tax
returns, and the total charges (and interest rate) to the family for receiving EIC funds a week
or two early.
Addressing the Loss of EIC for Immigrant Families
- Take-up rates for the EIC are very low in ZIP code 53204, where only 41
percent of married filers who appear income-eligible for the credit receive it. The lower take-up
rates appear to be directly related to the adverse terms of the federal tax law for immigrant
families. Legislation could address the specific needs of immigrant families for earned
income tax credit support, currently denied them under IRS rules, and provide
funding support to the UWM Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic and other agencies to aid additional
immigrant families with eligibility issues.
Adjusting the Top of the State EIC Payment Schedule
- Given the plateau used for the federal EIC, and consequently the state EIC
which piggybacks on the federal, the EIC generally provides high support for families in part-
time or part-year work. While this is a great help for the single parents identified above, it
leaves two-parent and full-time employed single parents with less income than they need to
support their families. The state and federal government should consider extending the
top EIC plateau to the $20,000 or $25,000 level of earnings, rather than at the
$13,000-14,000 levels where EIC payments begin to drop currently. Even without federal
legislation, in order to help more of the working poor in Wisconsin, the state EIC could continue
to piggyback on the federal tax form for eligibility but with changes in the payment schedule for
incomes above $13,000.