The Truth-O-Meter Says:
Barrett

Among the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas, Milwaukee is the "only one" where the poverty rate is more than "four times greater in the city than it is in the suburbs."

Tom Barrett on Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 in an interview

Milwaukee's city-suburban poverty disparity worst among U.S. metro areas, Mayor Tom Barrett says

Stating that Milwaukee is pounded by poverty isn’t startling -- unless you state it the way Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett did.

Seeking support for his 2014 city budget, Barrett met Sept. 24, 2013, with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. At one point, he lamented the economic hardship in his city.

The mayor distributed a list that showed the ratio of city poverty to suburban poverty in the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas, those with a metro population above 1 million. Then he said of Milwaukee:

"We are the only metropolitan area in the entire country where you’ve got that ratio higher than four, meaning that the poverty rate is four times greater in the city than it is in the suburbs. Only one. Only one."

There’s no question the city of Milwaukee has had some of the highest poverty rates in the country. Let’s see if the measure Barrett uses -- a city-to-suburban poverty ratio -- is accurate.

Barrett’s numbers

The list Barrett provided came from NewGeography.com, which is "devoted to analyzing and discussing the places where we live and work." It was included with a July 2012 article by Wendell Cox of Demographia, a Belleville, Ill., public policy firm.

Using 2010 census data, Cox provided a ratio to show how much greater the poverty rate is in the city vs. the suburbs in the 51 largest metro areas.

For Milwaukee, the poverty rate was 29.5 percent in the city and 6.9 percent in the suburbs -- a ratio of 4.3. In other words, the city’s poverty rate was 4.3 times higher than the suburban rate.

And, as Barrett said, Milwaukee was the only large metro area with a ratio above 4.

The three next-highest ratios behind Milwaukee, along with the city poverty rate vs. the suburban rate were:

Metro area

City poverty rate

Suburban rate

Ratio

Hartford, Conn.

31.2%

7.8%

3.99

Baltimore

25.6%

6.7%

3.80

Rochester, N.Y.

33.8%

9.3%

3.62

Newer numbers

Nearly a week before Barrett made his claim, the U.S. Census bureau released new poverty figures -- for 2012. Barrett alluded to them in his editorial board interview and had commented on them several days earlier in a Journal Sentinel news article.

A day after the new census figures, the Brookings Institution think tank posted a report on the 2012 poverty rates. The report didn’t list ratios like those in the report Barrett had cited.

But a simple calculation of Brookings’ city and suburban poverty rates shows that both the Milwaukee and Hartford, Conn., metro areas had a poverty ratio above 4:

Metro area

City poverty rate

Suburban rate

Ratio

Hartford, Conn.

38%

7.9%

4.81

Milwaukee

29.9%

7.3%

4.10

Our rating

Barrett said that among the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas, Milwaukee is the "only one" where the poverty rate is more than "four times greater in the city than it is in the suburbs."

Barrett was correct in citing 2010 census figures showing Milwaukee was the only large metro area with a poverty ratio above 4, but his claim went a bit too far in that the just-released 2012 figures show two areas with that ratio. That did not, however, undermine the thrust of his point, that the Milwaukee metropolitan area is virtually alone by this measure.

We rate the statement Half True.

If you would like to comment on this item, you can do so on the Journal Sentinel’s web page.

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About this statement:

Published: Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 at 5:00 a.m.

Subjects: City Budget, City Government, Income, Jobs, Poverty

Sources:

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, editorial board interview of Mayor Tom Barrett, Sept. 24, 2013

NewGeography.com, "2010 poverty rates: major metropolitan areas, core cities and suburbs," July 12, 2012

Interview, University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty director Timothy Smeeding, Sept. 27, 2013

Email interview, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities vice president for family income support policy LaDonna Pavetti, Sept. 26, 2013

Email interview, Mayor Tom Barrett spokesman Jeff Fleming, Sept. 25 and 26, 2013

Email interview, Brookings Institution research assistant Jane Williams, Sept. 27, 2013

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Milwaukee poverty a regional problem, Mayor Tom Barrett says," Sept. 18, 2013

Interview, Demographia principal Wendell Cox, Sept. 27, 2013

Brookings Institution, "New census data underscore metro poverty’s persistence in 2012," Sept. 19, 2013

Written by: Tom Kertscher
Researched by: Tom Kertscher
Edited by: Greg Borowski

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