A recent study released by the Brookings Institution found that Milwaukee has seen a larger increase in income inequality than almost any other city in the nation during the past several years.
In the late 2000s, Milwaukee saw an average of a $237 increase in the top 5 percent of income earners, while the bottom 20 percent saw a $3,481 decrease in their average income, according to the study. The city of Milwaukee has the fourth largest income inequality gap in the nation, according to the study.
The study found that in many northern cities whose manufacturing sectors were affected by the Great Recession, poverty and income inequality have steadily increased.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Milwaukee employed around 5 million manufacturing workers at its peak in 1970. As of 2013, only about 2 million of those jobs remain in the city.
The decrease in middle class jobs in sectors such as manufacturing has caused further pressure on the government to act from citizens and businesses and legislators such as Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, have voiced concerns.
“The government should offer more opportunities to people, tax less and regulate reasonably,” Tiffany said.
Tiffany said he believes good, middle-class jobs can be created when job creators find new industries and expand their operations.
According to the Argosy Foundation, only 51 percent of eighth grade students performed at or above basic levels in reading along with 37 percent in math in the Milwaukee Public Schools system.
Race also seems to play a factor in the high inequality rates, as Wisconsin is home to the largest achievement gap between blacks and whites in the country, according to the Argosy Foundation.
In 2006, the U.S. Census found that the average 25-year-old white male with a bachelor’s degree was making $61,175 in comparison to $46,474 for a black male with the same education and age.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, from 1992 to 2007, the top 400 earners in the United States saw their income levels rise 392 percent and the top 1 percent saw their total income share rise 10 percent.
Meanwhile the median worker saw an increase of just 5 percent between 1979 and 2012, despite productivity growth of 74.5 percent, while the 20th percentile worker saw wage erosion of 0.4 percent and the 80th percentile worker saw wage growth of just 17.5 percent, according to EPI.
Another key finding of the Brookings study showed that the income inequality gap among major U.S cities was 16 percent greater than their suburban and rural counterparts.
Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, also identified the large income inequality rates as an issue.
“I think that the minimum wage should be raised. People who put in a hard day’s work should be paid adequately and that’s not the case because corporations are paying their employees very little,” Sargent said.
Recently, a bill was introduced which would raise Wisconsin’s minimum wage to $10.10. The bill was proposed by 46 Democrats and lacked a single Republican cosponsor.
Walker has said artificially boosting the minimum wage would hurt the same people the legislation is intended to help and called the bill a “political grandstanding stunt.”
He said the bill would hold back the state’s economic recovery by causing business owners to cut back on worker hours in addition to laying off employees.