Milwaukee ranked fourth poorest city in nation

For some, a steady household income and abundance of opportunity is all that has ever been known. For others — 27 percent of Milwaukeeans, to be exact — poverty is something dealt with on a day-to-day basis.

In a report released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau, Milwaukee ranked fourth on a list of poorest cities in the United States in 2009. This ranking is seven spots higher than in 2008, when Milwaukee was named 11th poorest.

Only Detroit, with a 36.4 percent poverty rate, Cleveland with 35 percent and Buffalo with 28.8 percent ranked higher for cities with populations of more than 250,000, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey.

According to the Census website, poverty is measured by comparing annual income to a threshold based on family size, number of children and age of householder — the individual in whose name the property was signed. If a family’s income before taxes is less than the value of the average income threshold, they are considered to be in poverty. The standard threshold for a family of four with two children is an annual income of $21,954.

The Census data showed the issue of poverty is rising on a state and national scale as well.

Wisconsin’s poverty rate increased from 10.4 percent to 12.4 percent in the last year. The number of individuals in poverty also increased nationally from 38.3 million in 2008 to 42.8 million in 2009, according to the census.

Gerry Fischer, assistant director for Campus Ministry, said poverty in Milwaukee can’t disappear overnight, but efforts from students and the community can make a difference.

“There are huge issues with poverty not only in Milwaukee, but all over the nation,” Fischer said. “The only thing we can work to do is ‘break the bubble’… hear real stories and make people aware of what goes on outside of campus.”

Fischer also said the issue provides a mission for Marquette’s campus: to discover how to use the resources here for the improvement of the greater Milwaukee area.

One of the resources Fischer mentioned is the Office of Public Affairs on campus. Rana Altenburg, vice president of the Office of Public Affairs, said the office assists students, faculty and staff in making connections with the Milwaukee community.

“Our job is to be accessible in order to make connections between Marquette and the city, among others, and serve as a resource for departments and offices across the university that directly engage in community service programs,” she said.

This poverty ranking also provides an additional campaigning point for both gubernatorial candidates, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker (R) and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D), as they prepare for elections this November.

Jill Bader, communications director at Friends of Scott Walker, said Walker attributes the city’s poverty to the policies of Barrett and current Gov. Jim Doyle.

“Scott believes the key to solving this is getting government out of the way, lowering taxes and creating more jobs,” Bader said. “He plans on bringing 250,000 jobs to Wisconsin if elected.”

Jodie Tabak, spokeswoman for Barrett, said the Democratic candidate agrees the ranking is unacceptable, and it should be of concern to everyone in the community and state.

“It explains why we’re working so aggressively to create more jobs, tackle the issues of education, workforce development and transportation,” Tabak said. “These are some of the basic and most important steps we are taking to reduce poverty.”