A Wisconsin state lawmaker released a statement on Wednesday titled “Murder, Mayhem and Jobs,” in which he essentially blames Milwaukee’s Black residents for the state’s woes.
Amidst the recent news that Wisconsin’s workforce development agency said it received notices of more than 10,100 layoffs in 2015, the highest amount since Gov. Scott Walker took office five years ago, Republican Rep. Bob Gannon penned a press releasing addressing Democrats. He said Milwaukee is “the anchor holding back the ship of state as far as jobs [are] concerned.” Of last year’s layoff notices, 37 percent came out of the Milwaukee area.
He attributes the layoffs to the surge in gun violence in the city, which has a Democratic mayor, and unemployed Black residents, instead of anything having to do with the state government.
Milwaukee finished the year with an unemployment rate of approximately twenty percent for their Black population. This is almost four times as high as the white unemployment rate for the city and the state. This means that Milwaukee leads in murders and mayhem per capita, with a large number of these crimes occurring in mainly Black neighborhoods, the same neighborhoods with the worst unemployment rates in the state. Could one make a connection between employment opportunities and the level of crime on those same streets What employer will build or expand when they fear muggings, carjackings, attempted murder, or other serious criminal threats to their employees One cannot ignore the correlation between jobs and crime, employment opportunities will only expand in these neighborhoods when the violence is stopped.
In a statement released on Thursday, the Wisconsin State Legislature Black and Latino Caucus said, “Representative Gannon’s recent ignorant statement does a disservice to public policy making and discourse in our State Capitol … It is unfortunate that Republicans have continued down the path of failed economic policies and are not taking ownership over their own mistakes. In 2015, over 10,000 hardworking Wisconsin residents received layoff notices. Businesses across the state are closing their doors, many of whom have been in business for generations.”
Scot Ross is the executive director of One Wisconsin Now, a nonprofit issue advocacy organization based in Madison. Gannon’s statements appalled him.
“Bob Gannon says Black people in Milwaukee are responsible for over 10,000 mass layoffs in municipalities across the state,” he said in a statement. “His statements are despicable, racist tripe that should embarrass all of his Republican colleagues. Speaker Robin Vos, who made Gannon a vice chair of one of the Assembly’s most important committees, should strip him of this leadership position immediately.”
Black residents in Milwaukee cannot be blamed for the 38 percent of job loss last year in the state’s manufacturing sector.
“We’re talking about the loss of middle-class jobs, which means a shrinking middle-class in our state,” Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) said. “The focus by our government, which is led by Republicans, has really been on the folks at the top.”
Walker, a former GOP presidential candidate, downplayed the layoff numbers on Monday, focusing on the state labor participation rate, which is 67.8 percent, saying, “there’s more people working now than there have been at any point in the last 20 years.”
Though the state participation rate hit an all-time high in January 2015, it dropped in November by a full point.
Perhaps instead of blaming Blacks for Milwaukee’s downfall, Gannon should take a look at the city’s public education system. Its disproportionate suspension of Black students is off the charts.
From 2011-2012, Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) posted an average high school suspension rate of 33 percent, which is more than three times the national average of 10 percent. The district suspended 43 percent of Black students, 18 percent of Latino students and 16 percent of white students.
According to state data, from 2012-2013, MPS suspended 26 percent of Black high school students. From 2007-2008, a shockingly large number of Black students were suspended 56 percent.
In addition, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee report released in 2013 found Wisconsin actually has the highest incarceration rates for Black men in the United States. The report states “records show incarceration rates at epidemic levels for African American males in Milwaukee County. Over half of African American men in their 30s and half of men in their early 40s have been incarcerated in state correctional facilities.”
In an analysis of socioeconomic data published last month by 27/Wall Street, Wisconsin was ranked the worst state for Black Americans 2015. The survey is based on an examination of a number of socioeconomic measures and illustrates Blacks do not fare well in Wisconsin economically.
The authors write:
The median annual income of Black households in the state is just $26,053, much lower than the median for Black families nationwide and equal to just 46.5 percent the median income of white Wisconsin households of $56,083. Of all the racial disparities found in Wisconsin, the unemployment gap between Black and white state residents is perhaps the most troubling. With a white jobless rate of 4.4 percent, the state’s job market is relatively strong for the white population. For Black Wisconsin residents, however, the unemployment rate is more than five times higher, at 20.8 percent the highest among Black populations in every other state.