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WND EXCLUSIVE

Race and violence in the 'Welfare Magnet'

2/3 of young men in one Zip Code have been or are incarcerated

Want to guess that the real estate agents stay away from these facts: Half of the housing loans are for investors, 60 subprime lenders are in operation, 90 percent of family income-tax filers are single parents, and 90 percent of the jobs are held by non-residents.

That’s all from Milwaukee’s Zip Code 53206, a key component of what’s been described as Wisconsin’s welfare magnet.

The details from this neighborhood, and its city, aren’t what you’d find on a chamber of commerce brochure either.

An official report from the Milwaukee police department reveals more: In the city, the homicide rate for black residents is 27.9 per 100,000 compared to 9.7 for Latinos and 1.7 per 100,000 white residents.

Of known 2011 homicide suspects in Milwaukee, 93 percent are black, while 4 percent are white and Latino. The city itself is 40 percent black, 17 percent Latino, and 37 percent white, according to Census figures.

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee sociology professor Aki Roberts shared his view of these troubling patterns with WND.

“Milwaukee’s discrepancy does appear to be larger than the national average. Part of the reason may be that Milwaukee is one of most racially segregated cities in the United States,” he says.

Roberts added, “In 2011, the black unemployment rate in Milwaukee was 22.4 percent compared to 9.6 percent for whites and 16.7 percent for Hispanics,” which “parallels the racial disparity in homicide rates in Milwaukee.”

However, as the homicide report shows, the black murder rate is 14 times the white murder rate, while the black unemployment rate is double the white unemployment rate. From a different angle, Hispanics and blacks have a similar unemployment rate, yet the Hispanic murder rate is one third of the black rate.

The relationship between unemployment and crime is murky at best. Harvard sociologist Christopher Winship tells WND, “Research on the relationship between unemployment and crime, although considerable in quantity, has produced ambiguous results, with some work showing a positive relationship and other work a negative relationship.”

There have been times when severe unemployment has occurred while crime rates drop. “Most surprising, crime rates went down during the Great Depression. In the current recession they have been at 40-year lows,” Winship points out.

Milwaukee is among the 20 most violent cities in the country. By far, the largest number of homicides in Milwaukee occurred in one much-discussed Zip Code, 53206.

A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee project says, “The 53206 Zip Code neighborhood serves as a bellwether for poverty changes in Milwaukee and nationally.”

The report also notes, “In the 1990s prior to welfare reform in Wisconsin it had the largest number of families receiving AFDC.”

In 2011, 17 of the 86 homicides in Milwaukee occurred in 53206. Between 2005-2009, there were 95 homicides in this Zip Code out of 473 in the city as a whole. That’s 20 percent of all homicides, occurring in a Zip Code with less than 5 percent (28,210) of the city’s 594,833 population.

Blacks comprise 96 percent of the Zip Code, Latinos are 2.1 percent, and whites are 1.6 percent.

There would have been far more homicides had some of the hundreds of non-fatal shootings resulted in their intended outcome. Between 2006-2009 there were 501 nonfatal shootings in 53206, comprising 27 percent of all nonfatal shootings in Milwaukee.

Between 2010 and 2011, there were 873 non-fatal shootings in Milwaukee, and 182 (20 percent) were in Zip Code 53206.

Overall, Milwaukee is also one of the 10 poorest cities in America, and the state of Wisconsin was once known as a “welfare magnet.”

Over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, Wisconsin’s welfare benefits grew to be more generous than benefits in neighboring Illinois. By 1985, a Chicago family of three on welfare (AFDC) could increase their monthly cash benefit by roughly $200 by moving 90 miles to Milwaukee. By 1989, Wisconsin’s governor at the time, Tommy Thompson, worried that the state was becoming ”a welfare magnet.”

A Democratic state senator named Joseph Andrea complained that Wisconsin benefits were too high, and that welfare had no work requirement. Milwaukee was one of the Wisconsin cities that became a magnet to certain Chicago residents throughout the l980s.

By 1991, nearly a quarter of Milwaukee’s new AFDC cases were families that had moved to Wisconsin within just the prior three months. With close to a quarter of new welfare cases arising from people who had recently moved into the state, harsh skepticism mounted. There was also evidence that people posing as state residents were collecting welfare and simply returning home to Chicago with their payouts.

As Professor Lawrence Mead wrote, “stories of fraud and abuse fatally undercut Wisconsin’s liberal welfare consensus.” Wisconsin soon pioneered rigorous welfare reforms, which became the model for the 1996 AFDC overhaul.

The Zip Code 53206, with the highest murder rate in Milwaukee, also had the highest level of welfare dependence. Prior to Wisconsin’s welfare reform, 53206 “had the largest number of families receiving AFDC,” according to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee report.

Striking numbers of those born in that pre-welfare era went on to have encounters with the law: A 2007 report by UWM’s Employment and Training Institute noted that, “Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of men ages 30-34 from Zip Code 53206 have been incarcerated in state Department of Corrections facilities or are currently incarcerated.”

The Milwaukee homicide report also shows that most people involved with murder are no strangers to the criminal justice system. Seventy six percent (65) of 2011 homicide victims had prior arrest and/or citation. Ninety percent(74) of known homicide suspects had prior arrests/citations. The same pattern is found among nonfatal shooting victims and suspects.

Milwaukee public radio reporting revealed that local residents attribute the violence to a breakdown in family structure, unemployment, and a loss of hope. Some blame the construction of a freeway in the 1960s, which displaced families and communities, according to Claiborne Benson, the Founder of the Wisconsin Black Historical Museum.

Benson said, “The expressway divided us straight in half and where we had families together it created separate clusters of neighborhoods so it caused irreparable harm to the African American community.”

As in many cities, a great deal of ideas and resources are focused on supposed solutions to reduce youth violence. Milwaukee’s mayor believes education is the key, but not in the sense that many people might expect:

I never thought as mayor I’d be doing this, but I go into classrooms, and say, “Hi my name is Tom Barrett, I’m the mayor of the city of Milwaukee, and I’m begging you to stay in school.”

Public radio reports quoted unidentified “major players” in Milwaukee offering other solutions. One idea was to use state power to coerce employers to hire former convicts. Former convicts looking for jobs “have to give the employer a reason to view you as having something that justifies them giving you the job opportunity, and that’s what gives leaders the opportunity to go to employers and say, ‘You have to take a chance on people.’”

Another idea was making school suspensions in-school suspensions instead of sending young people out into the streets.

“If we could make every child grow up in a non-violent home, I would bet that we would have a whole lot less violence in our teenagers,” said another “major player.”

Thirty-eight percent of the Zip Code’s residents live in poverty, according to Professor Johannes Moenius, director of the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis (ISEA) at the University of Redlands School of Business. Moenius analyzes key demographic variables and tracks those variables within specific geographic areas, such as Zip Codes.

In addition to poverty, the UWM report reveals the broad scale of social disorganization in 53206. Among the findings of that report:

Considering that just 1.6 percent of those living in 53206 are white, it is perplexing that a majority of workers are white.

The large number of subprime lenders lent itself to what UWM’s 2007 report warned of as “the unprecedented increases in subprime and high-interest rate housing loans to neighborhood residents and investors.”

Subprime and refinancing loan in the mid 2000s drove a surge in home sales. However, following that flurry, there were vastly more foreclosure sales than there were sales of new homes.

Benson, who founded the black history museum, describes how pleasant the 53206 area used to be, in the not-too-distant past.

“I would pass this intersection as a young kid – how nice it was 40 years ago, 50 years ago,” he recalled.

Benson noted that 50 years ago “you would’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone here not of European ancestry.”

Additional research by Michael Thompson.

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