What’s Wrong With Milwaukee in Seven Charts [Moyers & Company]

This weekend’s episode of Moyers & Company and next week’s Frontline special Two American Families both tell the story of the Stanleys and the Neumanns, two Milwaukee families that Bill has been following since the breadwinners in each lost their well-paid factory jobs in 1990.

These Wisconsinites are part of a broader picture, representative of trends that effect many Americans. For nearly half a century, the Great Lakes region — Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, once at the core of America’s industrial belt — has been experiencing a continuing, dramatic decline in manufacturing. In the early 1980s, the bottom fell out.

Middle class workers and the poor in the region were hit particularly hard as median incomes dropped, particularly in cities. It’s not uncommon for cities to have lower median incomes than the state on the whole, but in many cities in the Great Lakes region, the gap is significant. In Milwaukee, median household income is only 68 percent of the Wisconsin average. Other cities in the area have even more significant gaps: Detroit and Cleveland both have median incomes of only 57 percent of their states’ averages.

At the same time, income inequality increased, with the already-wealthy pulling away from lower- and middle-income workers.

Some sectors of Milwaukee’s economy are growing, and new jobs are coming to the city. But the low pay for workers in these areas of growth makes it difficult to get by. The chart below compares average wages in these growing industries to the amount needed for a reasonable standard of living in Milwaukee as calculated by the nonprofit group Wider Opportunities for Women. Their standard for basic economic security takes into account expenses that the federal poverty line doesn’t, including housing, utilities, child care, transportation, health care, household goods, emergency and retirement savings and taxes.


Today, many of those living in the city are impoverished. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction found that 83.5 percent of children in Milwaukee Public Schools qualify for free or reduced price school lunches, an indicator of child poverty. That’s the highest rate in the state. The surrounding suburbs have some of the lowest rates in the state.*

A study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found that overwhelmingly, the city’s working poor households are headed by a single parent, usually a mother. These families were hit particularly hard by the Great Recession, and often fall far short of achieving a comfortable standard of living. Many struggle even to break the poverty line.


A separate study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee showed a growing disparity in employment between African American and white working men. Milwaukee has often been cited as one of the most segregated cities in the country, and many primarily-black sections of Milwaukee now have employment rates among working-age males below 50 percent.

*Child poverty (as measured by free or reduced-price lunches) has also increased statewide. See this graphic for more.

By John Light, July 3, 2013

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Milwaukee Janitors Deserve Better

150 janitors and supporters from labor, community and faith groups rallied in front of BMO Harris Bank’s headquarters in Chicago to protest the poverty wages and lack of benefits that the cleaning contractor hired by BMO Harris provides. Janitors who clean their Milwaukee Bank argue that BMO Harris is contributing to the cycle of poverty by hiring a janitorial company that provides substandard poverty wage jobs.

Keaira Fry speaks out at a BMO branch in Chicago.

Keaira Fry speaks out at a BMO branch in Chicago.

Keiara Fry, a CleanPower Janitor who believes she was fired for speaking out about work conditions, said, “With the little money that CleanPower pays us to clean BMO, I had to rely on government assistance to make ends meet. We deserve better.”

BMO reported making $975 million in profits in their second quarter; in 2012 BMO made more than $4 billion. Despite soaring profits, BMO Harris contracts CleanPower, a janitorial contractor that pays their employees only about $9,000 a year without benefits or affordable health care to clean their Milwaukee building.

Reverend C. J. Hawking, who attended the rally in support of the Milwaukee janitors, said, “We are deeply disappointed with BMO Harris. If Janitors who clean BMO in Chicago can earn a living wage with affordable health care and benefits, why are janitors who clean BMO in Milwaukee paid poverty wages.”

In contrast, the janitors at BMO’s Headquarters in Chicago are employed by a responsible janitorial contractor and are paid almost twice as much and have employer provided health insurance. They will join the protest in support of the Milwaukee custodians and community supporters as they urge BMO Harris Bank to help create good family sustaining jobs for Milwaukee, which has the 4th highest poverty rate in the country.

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Local 1 Constitution and Bylaws Amended!

page 1At the June 1st, 2013 membership meeting, Local 1 members from 11 cities and 6 states overwhelmingly approved constitutional and bylaw amendments by a 94% vote. The final vote tally was 366 in favor of the amendments and 22 against.

Click here for a copy of the most recent and up-to-date Local 1 constitution.

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Union Plus

As an SEIU Local 1 member or retiree, you are entitled to member-only rates, discounts and special offers from Union Plus. The Union Plus program is brought to us by the AFL-CIO to provide consumer benefits to union members. To view a full list of programs and discounts, including mortgages, travel discounts, entertainment coupons, and prepaid debit cards, visit www.unionplus.org or call 1-800-452-9425.

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Milwaukee Janitors Fight for a Fair Wage

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SEIU Local 1 Member Newsletters – October 2012

Catch up on news from your state and around Local 1. (Each newsletter is available in multiple languages.)

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Volunteer for Election 2012

When I was in college, I suffered from a ruptured brain aneurysm. Fortunately, I had health insurance through school and got the care I needed. After I graduated, I was denied insurance by every major carrier because of my preexisting condition. Even the state program was too expensive for me to afford.

But when Obama helped pass the Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies could no longer deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions. Now I have good health insurance with affordable premiums. I’m able to go see my doctor without worrying if I can afford it.

I want to thank President Obama for standing up for people like me, so I am volunteering with SEIU Local 1 to help re-elect President Barack Obama.

You can help too! Volunteer with SEIU Local 1 to make sure OUR voices are heard this election. Call the Member Resource Center: 877-233-8880.

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Local 1 Member Newsletters – Spring 2012

Catch up on news from your state and around Local 1. (Each newsletter is available in multiple languages.)

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Letter to the Mayor – From SEIU Local 1 Members

SEIU Local 1 Members delivered more than 5,300 postcards in support of the Responsible Bidder’s Ordinance. Here is a member reading aloud the letter accompanying the three file boxes full of postcards.

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SEIU Local 1 Janitors Rally for Good Jobs – Three Minute Contract Convention Video

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