MILWAUKEE — African Americans in Milwaukee face significantly larger hurdles in achieving economic mobility than their white counterparts.
Economic mobility is essentially the ability to create a better life for future generations. Think of it as, setting up your children to be more successful than you were. While there have been many strides towards equality in Milwaukee and nationwide, it doesn’t mean things are equitable.
An example could be paying off a house can be a step towards generating generational wealth for future generations. We know homeownership rates for African Americans in the City of Milwaukee are significantly lower than that of their white counterparts, making economic mobility even more difficult.
These underlying flaws to the system impact African Americans more heavily. Homeownership rates are as low as they are as a result of decades old racist policies like redlining. The impacts can be seen in quality education, employment rates and income as well.
Take this example; 56.9 percent of white, high school dropouts are employed in Milwaukee. On the contrary, 50.5 percent of Black, high school graduates are employed.
“We don’t have the same opportunities,” Marjorie Rucker, Exec. Dir. Of the Business Council said. “We don’t have the same access to knowledge on how to do things as our white counterparts do.”
Rucker’s focus is on helping minority business owners excel. She says that’s part of economic mobility; creating opportunity for one to benefit all.
“If you have a business that starts at five employees and grows to 10 or 15 in a year, that’s huge for a community,” Rucker said. “We talk about businesses, as far as an impact on the tax base, property values, and whatnot, but people who live in a particular community or contribute, that’s huge as well.”
As much as that can help a community, the opportunity just isn’t there for African Americans in Milwaukee. The University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, recently published a report on the State of Black Milwaukee. One section focused on white and Black children born into poor households in between 1978 and 1983.
Today, the white children make 80 percent more than the Black children.
"How do you tell a child they live in a world where they are not considered valuable unless it’s a benefit to someone else?” Rucker said. “I think that’s the hardest conversation to have.”
In order to make strides for future generations, Rucker urges parents to talk to their kids about all of the options for their future. Rucker says she is riddled with debt from pursuing a Bachelor's degree and a law degree. She says, of course she’s proud of her achievements but has had thoughts about how different her life would be financially had she pursued a trade.
“There may have been a trade I was good at,” Rucker said. “I could be a master electrician and make more money than I do right now. Or, I could have pursued some other opportunities that would have given me what I wanted for life. I really think that Black parents need to allow their children to explore what it is they like to do and give them the opportunity to explore.”
While it’s perfectly acceptable to pursue a traditional 4-year degree, Rucker says to push kids to see what they really want to do with their lives.
“Do the research and open their minds to other possibilities,” Rucker said. “So, if they want to go to college and they want to be an astronaut, that’s great. If they want to be a mortician, that’s equally necessary and responsible as well. It’s really just learning about what’s out there and letting them pursue their opportunities but letting them know there’s more than just the path that might be told to them that you need to do.”
Rucker says things could get worse before they get better because of the pandemic. She says there are estimates that 50 percent of Black-owned businesses may fail as a result of COVID-19. She fears this could cause more turmoil in the pursuit of Black economic mobility.
“Will we see exponential change in the next five years?” Rucker said. “That’s unlikely. Hopefully, we will be able to create good systems or impacts that could work for our communities and start to bring them where they need to be.”