Public Policy Forum Blog

Increased poverty in Wisconsin means less funding for Milwaukee neighborhoods

The overarching finding of our recent report on funding for community development in Milwaukee neighborhoods is that funds coming to Milwaukee from many formula-based federal and state programs have declined over the last seven or eight years. That was true for most of the programs we examined, which included programs related to housing, economic development, education, workforce development, health, and social services.

Another key observation from our research was that in many cases, funding for programs in Milwaukee has declined despite stable or increased overall program appropriations from Washington or Madison. We suggested this likely was caused by the re-direction of federal or state dollars from Milwaukee to other jurisdictions, which in turn was attributed to increased poverty levels across Wisconsin and the nation that made additional jurisdictions eligible for funding.

A recent article in CityLab backs up that finding. The article features an animated map showing annual child poverty rates in every school district in the country as they changed from 2006 to 2013. Poverty in Wisconsin seems to peak in 2010 and then stabilize, but the difference between 2006 and 2013 remains evident, as the images below show.


The poverty rate is a major factor used to determine funding amounts for several federal programs, such as Title 1 for K-12 education and the Weatherization Assistance Program for home weatherization services. 

While the goal, of course, should be to decrease poverty in Milwaukee and reduce the need for public funding for community development purposes, the current reality is that the needs in Milwaukee remain substantial. Thus, while we will watch closely to see whether these public funding sources begin to shift back to Milwaukee as the state’s economy rebuilds, it also appears likely that other funding sources and strategies will be needed to support and strengthen Milwaukee neighborhoods.

Joe Peterangelo