Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

01 April, 2010

Tough Times in Brew City

It's been very depressing and worrying lately to read about Milwaukee. Last year the state assumed control of Milwaukee County's public assistance programs and now I read about some terribly disheartening studies. The one that seemed to get the most press showed that black fourth graders in Brew City have the worst reading scores in whole country.

Reading scores for Wisconsin's African-American fourth-graders trail those of their racial peers in every other state and the District of Columbia, according to a national government report that delivered dire news Wednesday about how Wisconsin prepares its students.

Further, fourth-graders as a whole in Wisconsin are losing ground in reading while other states make gains, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation's report card. Only 33% of the state's fourth-graders scored at a level considered proficient or advanced by the test; the rest scored at a basic level or lower.

This is an embarrassment. We are the richest country in human history yet here we are in the 21st century struggling with literacy and the state I call home is racing to the very bottom with black children essentially there already. While the majority of black children are in Milwaukee-Kenosha-Racine, I don't doubt that we face a similar problem here in Madison but with a smaller population.

Another study which I didn't discover until recently and doesn't seem have gotten any mention in Madison's newspapers was done on eviction in Milwaukee and it was carried out by a UW-Madison student named Matt Desmond. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ran a story about it but the timing was unfortunate as it hit the paper on New Year's Day. The results showed that eviction is to black women and prison is for black men. (Wisconsin has the highest percentage of black prisoners in the nation.)

The study found that one renter-occupied household in 20 is evicted each year in Milwaukee. In neighborhoods where blacks are the majority, the study found that number jumps to one in 10 renter-occupied households evicted every year.

The study was undertaken by Matt Desmond, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He analyzed court records and a did a year's worth of field work that included living in a south side trailer park and in a rooming house on the city's north side.

During his research, Desmond spent time with tenants fighting evictions and packing their belongings. He also spent time with landlords to get their side of the eviction story.

"This is a unique study because there's a lot of information about foreclosures, but not much on evictions," said Timothy Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty and a professor in UW-Madison's La Follette School of Public Affairs.

And to add Pelion upon Ossa, I have discovered a report which notes that single women of color are incredibly poor.

The study, "Lifting As We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America's Future," found that while the median net worth of single white women ages 36-49 is $42,600 -- 61 percent of the median wealth for same-aged, single white men -- single women of color in the same age group have a median wealth of just $5.

Black and Hispanic women are also drastically worse off in a broader age bracket, with almost half of single black and single Hispanic women ages 18-64 reporting zero or negative wealth (46 percent and 45 percent, respectively), compared with 23 percent of single white women, according to the report.

Mind you, these are not Milwaukee-specific numbers but Milwaukee's black population is 35-40%.

Because Madison is largely white and comparatively well-off because we have a Big 10 university and the state government apparatus we don't see these conditions very much. A lot of people here tend to think of these problems as Milwaukee's problems but I have to wonder exactly how our state can prosper when its largest city is in such dire straits. And let us not forget that poverty is growing here in Madison as well.
|| Palmer, 11:36 AM


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