While universities often boost commerce in an area, having a concentrated, highly-educated workforce in a city can also cause stark economic segregation, an effect a recent study found shapes life in Madison.
In a recent study from The Atlantic Cities, Madison was listed as a city that suffers from high levels of poverty segregation. The report looked at different factors in cities throughout the country that contribute to economic segregation, focusing on average wages, per capita incomes and economic output per capita.
The report found the poor face higher segregation in more highly-educated cities, and segregation connected directly with the percentage of adults with college degrees. The share of those employed in knowledge, professional and creative jobs, as well as the concentration of technology industries, were figures factored into the study.
Many of the cities that were found to have such segregation were university towns, home to Penn State, University of Michigan, University of Colorado, University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin.
Housing prices are often indicative of income levels, so higher prices may leave little choice in where to live for poorer residents, reinforcing higher levels of segregation, Richard Florida, the report’s author, said.
Ald. Mark Clear, District 19, said the economic influence UW has on Madison cannot be overemphasized. Within the past decade, the city has seen the construction of an abundance of new student high rises at the higher end scale of housing, he said.
Dawn Crim, associate dean for external relations at the UW School of Education, said many apartments are looking to students as the target renting population, and the rates are often out of reach for average working families. The changes in the housing situation are too new to fully predict what the effects of it will be, she said.
“The affordable housing is really concentrated in several different areas throughout the city, so if you’re trying to stretch your housing dollar, you’re trying to find one of these locations,” Crim said.
She also said the significant impact of having a university in a city is a condensed level of people who possess degrees in comparison to other cities.
As a result, Crim said when positions are posted for job offerings, regardless of the level of education required, there are many more individuals with degrees applying for the positions. This leads to economic segregation in the city because it reduces the opportunities for those types of employment for individuals without degrees, and meanwhile, hired professionals are often overqualified, she said.
This economic segregation becomes a negative barrier for the city in catering to all of its citizens, Crim said. It prevents diversity from growing in the city because there are few opportunities for many people without degrees to have self-sustaining jobs and to sustain their families.
Jim O’Keefe, director of the city’s Community Development Office, said Madison looks to create initiatives to connect people with jobs in under-served sectors, especially construction.
“There’s an acute shortage of labor in those areas and its getting worse, and those tend to be good family-supporting jobs so that’s another very specific initiative we’re about to work on,” O’Keefe said.
There are definite barriers, including basic educational skills, access to adequate transportation and access to child care, that prevent certain groups of people from reaching full employment and overcoming economic segregation, he said.
Despite the report’s findings, Crim said the economic benefits of UW in Madison is overwhelmingly positive because of outreach to the local community with things like the Wisconsin Film Festival, the UW Geology Museum and the many speakers that come to town and give speeches that are free or low cost to attend.
“The more the university breaks down the barriers and creates a more open campus, the more people will feel welcome,” she said.