Thursday, May 31, 2018

Milwaukee and rural Wisconsin keeps losing people while Madison keeps gaining

Though the hassles and other activities around Memorial Day weekend and a personally busy week, this recent story slipped my reaction.
The city of Milwaukee lost residents for the third straight year and has now added just 518 residents since the last census in 2010, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data, which estimate a city’s population as of July 1 in a given year, show Milwaukee’s population decreased by 2,157 from 2016 to 2017, a 0.4 percent decrease.

The drop marks the third straight year Milwaukee has seen population declines after drops of 3,504 in 2016 and 190 in 2015. Those declines have nearly wiped out all of the city’s population gains in the first half of the decade.

DeForest was the fastest growing of the 100 largest incorporated areas in the state during the year, adding 687 residents, a 7.1 percent increase. Other fast growing municipalities included Harrison, up 4.2 percent, and Middleton, up 3.3 percent....

Eleven area municipalities had percentage decreases greater than Milwaukee, led by Shorewood and West Allis, both down 0.8 percent. The other communities with percentage losses greater than Milwaukee included Whitefish Bay, Glendale, Greendale, South Milwaukee, Brown Deer, St. Francis, Greenfield, Sheboygan and Franklin.
Note that outside of Sheboygan, those other 10 municipalities listed with notable declines are all in MIlwaukee County. This goes along with the Census Bureau's earlier reports that showed Milwaukee County lost nearly 3,300 people in 2017.

Fewer people are living in this town in recent years.

And it's not like the rest of the Milwaukee metro area was booming to make up the difference from the people leaving Milwaukee County.

Milwaukee metro counties population 2017 vs 2016
Waukesha Co. +2,396
Washington Co. +729
Ozaukee Co. +252
Racine Co. +1,061

That means the 5-county Miller Park area barely grew more than 1,000 people in all last year. Not generally a good sign for a state's economy when the largest metro area has stagnant population growth.

It's a marked contrast from what we've seen in the second-largest metro area in the state in Madison. The Capitol City had by far the largest increase in population of any Wisconsin city in 2017, with more than 3,100 more people calling Madison home, and Dane County accounted for 4 of the 6 communities with the largest increases in population growth in Wisconsin in 2017.

Likewise, Madison and Dane County have added the most people in Wisconsin for the entire 2010s. Madison had 22,005 more people in 2017 than it had at the start of the decade, which is more than 20% of the state's entire gain in population. 4 of Madison's suburbs have also had notable growth in the 2010s, as have two suburbs of Green Bay, and Appleton have also done well. The only Milwaukee-area community that has solid growth is Oak Creek, with an increase of a little over 1,900 people.

On the negative side, the largest population losses in the 2010s have been in mid-size cities, headed by Racine, and including 2 cities each in Manitowoc and Wood Counties.

Interestingly, Racine actually added people for the first time in the 2010s last year - it was only 63 people, but that beats all the consecutive years of losses. That's the opposite trend of Milwaukee, who the Census Bureau says peaked at more than 601,000 people in 2014, and has lost people in each of the 3 years since, including a significant loss last year.

One last item I want to bring up with these figures is that some Wisconsin communities have lost a much larger portion of their population than Milwaukee or Racine have in the 2010s. On a percentage basis, many small Wisconsin communities have become quite a bit smaller in this decade, especially in the northern and central parts of the state.

In fact, Census Bureau statistics say taht more incorporated Wisconsin communities have lost people than gained them in this decade.

2017 vs 2010, Wis cities and villages. (601 total)
Total population gainers 232
Total population losers 357
Same 12

And losing population is a real problem for communities. Not only does it indicate a lack of economic growth, but it also means that there is likely fewer taxpayers to support the services that are still required in those communities. This will raise the tax burden on all who remain, and that's especially a problem because the state has refused to raise shared revenues and allow communities much of a chance to raise their own revenues to make up for it. So you can see where these communities are in serious danger of a spiraling decline that won't be fixed unless there is some kind of major economic change, or a notable increase in state funding to help them get by.

This kind of uneven population and economic growth is something that has afflicted many parts of rural America along with Wisconsin, but where Wisconsin stands out (in a bad way) is that its largest city and metro area has also flatlined in the 2010s. And no Scotty, blowing the state budget on Foxconn will not solve these population issues (and may make them worse as the rest of the state is disinvested).

Maybe we should follow the Madison model and try to be more like those crazy hippies, because a lot of people seem to want to be part of what's going on in the Mad City. But given that the Wisconsin GOP seems determined to knock down Milwaukee in a cheap attempt to play "divide and conquer" to try to make the mediocrity that exists in the non-Madison parts of the state seem better, it seems like the 414 and the 262 will fail to keep up with the 608 until there's a change from the WisGOPs that have been in charge in Wisconsin for the 2010s.


  1. Yeah - that all seems very true. Sadly, nobody on the opposition side is really making an argument yet. Gov Walker has become the status quo, and with things generally moving along -

    (As long as you don't pay attention to the crummy roads, the declining environment, the education funding issues or the burgeoning debt load . . . )

    There's no really good argument for the state's middle ground voters to change course. Possible we get a few more Democrats out now that Clinton isn't weighing the ticket down and we still have Trump to campaign against? Yeah. Might even be enough if the candidate makes some good arguments for change.

    More stable funding for DOT
    Marijuana legalization
    Making it easier to vote
    Better auditing of election results
    Smaller school districts' needs
    Trade/commodity issues esp ag products
    WDEC reform/dissolution

    Seems like the candidates are swinging away at Act 10, and I think that's a losing proposition. Already lost three times frankly. More targeted arguments might be more effective.

    Unions should be able to be formed on a simple majority vote rather that the 51% of the total membership criteria presently used - a standard no politician could ever meet.

    Unions should be able to negotiate on behalf of their members.

    Aspects of Act 10 that could legitimately be called unfair as they represent standards which are not applied to other labor unions. Might gain some ground there.

    Is it possible to make the argument that Milwaukee being a great city would be a bump to the entire state? Is there anybody in the pool who might be able to use that to jump the urban/rural divide? Man, I'd love to see that campaign. Could we use Madison and Dane County's success as a jump off base for it?

    Go back to old Adam Smith with the idea that we talk to people about how it's going to benefit them if we want them to go along with us.

    Marijuana legalization could help bridge the gap - certainly growers and craft producers could use another revenue source.

    To sum it up, I think Democrats need to be a lot bolder than I've seen.

  2. I would love to retire to Milwaukee. It's a beautiful city.