The uneven recovery of Milwaukee’s economy since the COVID-19 pandemic began

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Over the past 27 months, the U.S. economy underwent incredible shifts. The shutdown beginning in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was the swiftest and most deliberate slowdown of economic activity on record. In response, the federal government issued an unprecedented level of fiscal stimulus. Thus far, about $6 trillion has been disbursed through legislative or administrative action. This comes on top of nearly $5 trillion of federal reserve stimulus.

Despite initial concerns of a lengthy recession, the economic recovery began swiftly. Officially, the 2020 recession is the shortest in American history. That said, the recovery has been uneven. In much of the country, unemployment rates remain higher now than in 2019.

In an effort to sort through Milwaukee’s experience of both the shutdown and the recovery, Mike Gousha and I have a new article out today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as part of our Milwaukee Area Project and the Lubar Center’s long running collaboration with the newspaper. It is accompanied by another article by business reporter Corri Hess.

As you might imagine, a great deal more research went into this project than appears in the final article. I’ve written a longer report, “Milwaukee’s economy during the pandemic: Fewer jobs, more businesses,” which can be downloaded here. (Open the HTML document with the web browser of your choice). The report contains detailed tables and analysis using federal, state, and local datasets to explore changes to Milwaukee’s businesses and employees over the past several years.

The picture that emerges defies a simple summary. Some parts of the economy are doing well. Many sectors have seen a net increase in new businesses compared to before the pandemic. But most industries (with a few notable exceptions) still employ fewer people than in 2019. Despite the national narrative of a tight labor market, the Bureau of Labor Statistics still estimates the city of Milwaukee’s unemployment rate to be higher than at this time three years ago. At the same time, the size of the fiscal stimulus delivered in cash to Milwaukeeans is remarkable–outstripping the loss in total wages paid by Milwaukee employers during 2020 several times over.

For the most part, stimulus programs are finished, and concerns over inflation have taken center stage. Still, the best statistics available show more unemployed people in Milwaukee currently than in 2019. As federal policymakers shift their focus from stimulus to inflation-fighting, the effect on Milwaukee’s economy is hard to predict. In some important ways, the recovery is still incomplete.

With candor and humor, environmental regulators give commitments to tackle challenges

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In 15 years of public policy programs hosted by Marquette Law School, there may never have been as succinct, candid, and humorous answer to a question as one provided by Preston Cole, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, during a program on June 15, 2022, in the Lubar Center of Eckstein Hall.

The session, “A Federal-State Conversation on Environmental Issues,” featured Cole and Debra Shore, administrator of Region 5 of the Environmental Protection Agency, which covers much of the Midwest, including Wisconsin. David Strifling, director of the Law School’s Water Law and Policy Initiative, was the moderator. The session was held before an in-person audience and livestreamed.

Strifling asked Cole what was one thing Wisconsin needed from the EPA. “Money, money, money, money!” Cole sang in response. “Money!” he added, for emphasis.

EPA funding translates into buying power to deal with major environmental issues such as the impact of large-scale agricultural operations, invasive species, and chemical contamination of water, Cole said.

Shore and Cole said their agencies have renewed and increased commitments to dealing with a host of issues including pollution from chemicals known as PFAS and global warming. Continue reading “With candor and humor, environmental regulators give commitments to tackle challenges”

GOP Appeal in Wisconsin Redistricting Case Could Have Far-reaching Impact—If U.S. Supreme Court Takes It Up  

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting

A Republican appeal of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s legislative redistricting decision earlier this month could have national significance for the federal Voting Rights Act, according to a Marquette University law professor. To that extent, at least, others agree.

If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of GOP state lawmakers, the federal justices could allow so-called “race-neutral” redistricting nationwide, says Marquette Professor Atiba Ellis, who has written about the landmark 1965 civil rights law. Combined with previous high court decisions reducing the strength of other parts of the Voting Rights Act, such a ruling would amount to “erasing the efforts of Reconstruction” and going back to a time before the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extended voting rights to people of color, Ellis fears.

“That’s my worst-case scenario,” he says.

Not all agree, of course, and much is uncertain or debatable, even the timing: The U.S. Supreme Court might hold off on a decision until after the fall elections, allowing a map drawn by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and approved by the state supreme court to be used for those contests, says Robert Yablon, associate professor of law at the University of Wisconsin.

Or the justices might refuse to take up the appeal at all, says Mel Barnes, an attorney at Law Forward, the legal organization that is representing three voting rights groups in the case. Continue reading “GOP Appeal in Wisconsin Redistricting Case Could Have Far-reaching Impact—If U.S. Supreme Court Takes It Up  “

Republicans Could Get Last Word on Redistricting—as Democrats Did in 1983  

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You may have heard that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will be deciding legislative district lines that will stand for the next decade.

It might happen that way. But if Republicans win back the governor’s office and retain control of both houses of the Legislature this fall, they could redraw the map next year to favor their party even more than any of the GOP-leaning options the high court might choose.

That’s what Democrats did when they were in the same position 40 years earlier, although the 1983 Democratic effort differs significantly from the Republican-engineered 2011 redistricting plan that Democrats have denounced as an extreme partisan gerrymander.

A Supreme Court opinion in the current case will leave the door open for Republicans to redraw the map if they are in charge of both the legislative and executive branches. Continue reading “Republicans Could Get Last Word on Redistricting—as Democrats Did in 1983  “

Neighborhoods where Milwaukee isn’t segregated

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The following statistics were calculated by aggregating 2020 census blocks into Milwaukee neighborhoods. Because of data quality concerns stemming from the Census Bureau’s new differential privacy techniques, I do not present data for neighborhoods with fewer than 400 residents.

The 2020 Census reconfirmed Milwaukee’s status as one of the most segregated cities and metropolitan areas in the United States.

According to Brown University’s Diversity and Disparities Project, metro-wide Black-white segregation declined slightly, but the Milwaukee metro still ranks 2nd-most segregated, just as in 2010. Within city limits, the absolute degree of Black-white segregation measured by Brown University remained unchanged, and segregation between other groups declined only modestly.

These dismal statistics point to how far Milwaukee remains from being a fair place to live for most of its residents. Still, there are neighborhoods in Milwaukee that saw significant positive change over the last decade. Their populations grew more representative of the city as a whole.

One way to measure this is a “diversity index,” which shows the likelihood that two people randomly chosen from the same neighborhood would identify with different races. Continue reading “Neighborhoods where Milwaukee isn’t segregated”

Many of Wisconsin’s rural towns are more walkable than suburbs

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downtown platteville
Downtown Platteville, source: Platteville.org

Walk Score is a company which generates eponymous scores for towns and addresses based on how many staples of everyday life you can walk to. A score of 0 means nothing is in walking distance. An entirely walkable community scores 100. New York City scores 88, Los Angeles 69, Houston 47, Scottsdale 32.

I grew up in Bardolph, Illinois with a walk score of 7. We lived within walking distance of three places where I could legally spend money–the post office and two pop machines. Bardolph wasn’t always this way. My great-aunts could recall catching the train to the county seat. During my mom’s childhood, the village still had a grocery store, pool hall, schools, and two churches. The high school consolidated in 1973, and the grade school merged with Adair in 1979. The Presbyterian church closed in the early 1990s, while the Methodist church lingered just a few years longer. Last time I visited, the pop machines were gone, and the post office was only staffed 2 hours a day.

Bardolph is a little closer to oblivion than some of its neighbors. But all of McDonough County’s small towns–Adair (walk score: 7), Good Hope (10), Industry (8), Prairie City (17)–are well along that same trajectory.

These low walk scores aren’t a consequence of car-centric design. You could walk to the furthest corners of each in 15 minutes, possibly even on a sidewalk. There is just almost nowhere left to walk to.

This being my experience of rural life, I was surprised to encounter many healthy small towns in Wisconsin, some of which are even thriving. Continue reading “Many of Wisconsin’s rural towns are more walkable than suburbs”

Whose maps are least changed of all?   

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting

Change, like beauty, appears to be in the eye of the beholder.

After the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that new legislative and congressional district maps must change as little as legally possible from the current maps, observers saw it as a win for the Republicans and conservatives who sought that ruling. Democrats have condemned the maps drawn in 2011 as an extreme partisan gerrymander that has locked in GOP control of the Legislature for the past decade.

But while least-change maps are sure to be Republican-majority maps, they’re not necessarily going to be the same maps that the GOP-controlled Legislature approved last year, only to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. And the ruling hasn’t driven all the rival map-changers out of the courtroom.

Instead, Justice Rebecca Bradley’s majority opinion has prompted a legal debate over exactly what “least change” means—and a contest in which nearly all of the parties are competing to convince the court that their preferred maps would change less than those submitted by their opponents. Continue reading “Whose maps are least changed of all?   “

Black, Brown, and White: Differing Views on Redistricting Involve More than Red and Blue

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting

More than two colors matter in redrawing district maps.

In Wisconsin, public and media attention has focused largely on how much red and blue show up in each proposed legislative or congressional map, reflecting the partisan balance of power between Republicans and Democrats.

But redistricting is also a portrait in black, brown, and white, with district lines under scrutiny for how they affect the rights of Black and Hispanic voters to choose their preferred representatives. And as state and local redistricting debates show, federal court decisions have left a lot of gray areas in interpreting those legal rights. Continue reading “Black, Brown, and White: Differing Views on Redistricting Involve More than Red and Blue”

Combating Partisan Gerrymandering Not a Focus for Wisconsin’s High Court 

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting

The rules of the game are set. Now the scoring begins.

In a 4-3 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently laid down two key guidelines that are already having a major impact on the outcome of the contest over redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional maps.

The high court’s Nov. 30 opinion dealt a one-two punch to gerrymandering opponents. In drawing new district lines, justices said they would not consider what impact those lines would have on the balance of power between the two major political parties. They also said they would make as few changes as possible to the current maps — maps that have given Republicans an almost-unbreakable hold on the state Legislature for the past decade. Continue reading “Combating Partisan Gerrymandering Not a Focus for Wisconsin’s High Court “