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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Milwaukee Today: NAACP's Report on the City's African Americans

Education and employment are keys to success

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“Grim.”

That's what R.L. McNeely called the findings of a new NAACP study on the status of African Americans in Milwaukee.

Take, for example, some of these facts presented in “Milwaukee Today: An Occasional Report of the NAACP” by McNeely with UW-Milwaukee's David Pate and Lisa Ann Johnson:

  • Milwaukee remains one of the most segregated cities in the nation and has lost 38% of its white population since 1985.
  • “Milwaukee's African-American married-couple family is an endangered institution,” the report states. Only 28% of Milwaukee's black families had two parents in 2000, down from 64% in 1970.
  • The median income of families headed by single mothers—regardless of race—is $18,800, about one-third of the $61,300 income earned by married-couple families in Milwaukee County. But, according to Census 2000 data, the median income for African-American single moms in Milwaukee County is $15,900, compared to $26,800 for white single moms.
  • Milwaukee's black male population between the ages of 20 and 54 would have to be increased by nearly 40% to match Milwaukee's black female population of equivalent age.
  • Fatherless homes and black family disruption are associated with neighborhood destabilization, black juvenile criminality, increased black juvenile violence and, indeed, substantial increases in the rates of black murder and robbery.
  • In 2009, there were more than 70,000 job seekers in Milwaukee but fewer than 10,000 job vacancies.
  • More than half of all African-American males in Milwaukee between the ages of 16 and 64 are jobless.
  • Milwaukee employers are more likely to respond to a white job-seeker with a criminal record than a black job-seeker without a record.
  • Milwaukee ranks last among 52 major cities in forecasted minority entrepreneurial growth.
  • The estimated graduation rate for African-American males enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools is only 40%.
  • Educational prospects are brightest for students enrolled in MPS Montessori schools and worst for those in voucher schools.
  • Wisconsin has the second-highest rate of incarceration of African Americans in the country.
  • Wisconsin incarcerates blacks at nearly 11 times the rate at which it incarcerates whites.

Families, Incarceration, Jobs Interconnect

In McNeely's analysis of the data, the decreasing numbers of stable two-parent African-American families in the city are connected to a host of problems for the kids, the parents and their neighborhoods.

According to data compiled in the report, children in single-parent homes are more likely to drop out of high school, have children before they turn 20, suffer from drug or alcohol abuse, and have emotional and behavioral problems. “Black family disruption has the strongest effect on black juvenile criminality, and substantially increases the rates of black murder and robbery,” the report states.

McNeely is especially concerned about the links between fragile single-parent homes, poverty, juvenile violence and destabilized neighborhoods.

“What we're talking about is lower property values and conditions like increased violence that lead otherwise desirable residents to move,” McNeely said. “There is a combination of things that are destabilizing neighborhoods. A big part is the increased juvenile violence flowing from single-parent homes, specifically homicides and armed robberies.”

The researchers' analysis also turned up potential solutions that can help African Americans' educational and employment prospects.

Since data show that all students perform best in MPS Montessori schools and worst in highly unregulated voucher schools, education leaders could begin offering more Montessori opportunities to students. MPS currently operates seven Montessori elementary and middle schools and one high school.

The researchers also pointed to smart ex-offender re-integration programs that seem to be working in other locations. Project Return, launched in 1989 by Robert Roberts in New Orleans, has reduced violence and recidivism rates and decreased taxpayer costs. That program could be combined with job training that includes entrepreneurial skills, which could help African-American ex-offenders gain employment while boosting the numbers of black-owned businesses in Milwaukee.

“This could be a means by which some of the ex-offenders can escape the morass of unemployment, contribute to the tax base of the city and help to restabilize some of these neighborhoods and families,” McNeely said.