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For years, Milwaukee has made national headlines for being one of the most segregated urban areas in America.
In 2011, we rated Mostly True a Rev. Jesse Jackson claim that Milwaukee is the nation’s most-segregated city. We found that the white-black segregation is worst in metropolitan Milwaukee, if not in the city itself.
Now there’s an Internet meme that has been liked, shared or commented on more than 18,000 times on Facebook. It makes a two-part claim about Milwaukee and putting whites and blacks behind bars.
Milwaukee, the posting says, "incarcerates 1.2 percent of white men" and has "incarcerated over 50 percent of black men in their 30s."
"Pass this along for the millions of people who say racism is not an issue. Cure them of their ignorance," the group said in posting the meme.
The black-white gap between the two percentages caught our attention. But so did the fact that the percentages measure two different things.
Behind the meme
The meme was posted Dec. 31, 2014 on Facebook by US Uncut, a loose network of local groups that coordinates nationally through the Internet. The Daily Beast has described the group as the "tea party for the left." Its Facebook page has more than 932,000 likes.
The group, formed in 2011, says it has "mobilized thousands of people against corporate tax dodging and austerity." But it has also addressed racial issues.
We connected via phone and email with Mark Provost of Manchester, N.H., who describes himself as a meme maker for US Uncut. He said the two statistics cited in the meme came from a study published in 2013 by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. (That study garnered news coverage from the BBC, among others.)
First part of the claim
The first part of US Uncut's claim is 1.2 percent of white men in Milwaukee are incarcerated.
But what the UWM study says is 1.2 percent of white men in Wisconsin were incarcerated in state prison or local jails -- there is no such figure in the study for Milwaukee. That was as of April 2010, when U.S. Census Bureau conducted its most recent decennial count of Wisconsin residents.
Provost acknowledged that that part of the study deals only with Wisconsin, and that he doesn't have a figure for Milwaukee.
It’s worth noting the study did find a much higher rate of African-American men in Wisconsin -- 12.8 percent -- were incarcerated at the time.
That was the highest such rate in the nation, according to the study (Oklahoma was second at 9.7 percent).
The second part of the claim is Milwaukee has incarcerated more than 50 percent of black men in their 30s.
An important point here is that the first part of the claim was about incarceration at one point in time. This part of the claim covers more than two decades.
The UWM study estimated based on state correctional records that over half of black men in their 30s in Milwaukee County (rather than the city) were incarcerated in state correctional facilities between 1990 and January 2012.
The difference between the city and the county doesn’t appear significant.
Lois Quinn, one of the researchers who did the study, told us the study doesn’t have city of Milwaukee figures on this statistic. "But given the concentrations of African-Americans residing in the city and the maps of those incarcerated, I believe that it would be accurate to expect" that over half of black men in their 30s in the city have been or were incarcerated during that period, she said.
The study did not, however, attempt to make the same incarceration estimate for white men in their 30s.
In any case, placing the two side by side amounts to mixing apples and oranges. The first figure is for people incarcerated at a given moment in time. The second is for people who have ever been incarcerated, which clearly skews the comparison.
The left-wing activist group US Uncut says in a Facebook meme that Milwaukee "incarcerates 1.2 percent of white men" and has "incarcerated over 50 percent of black men in their 30s."
But the way the claim is structured overstates the disparity, based on the university study it relies on.
On the first part of the claim (which should refer to Wisconsin, rather than Milwaukee), 1.2 percent of white men were incarcerated as of the latest census, versus 12.8 percent of black men. That is, at a given point in time.
The second part of the claim essentially quotes the study accurately -- more than 50 percent of black men in their 30s in Milwaukee County were or had been incarcerated. But there is no corresponding figure for white men.
For a statement that is partially accurate but leaves out important details, our rating is Half True.
To comment on this item, go to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s web page.
Facebook, post from US Uncut, Dec. 31, 2014
Interview, US Uncut social media activist Steve Provost, Jan. 9, 2015
Email interview, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute senior scientist Lois Quinn, Jan. 9, 2015
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, "Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African-American Males: Workforce Challenges for 2013," 2013
The Daily Beast, "Tea party for the left: US Uncut," March 3, 2011
Politico, "UK protest group spreads to US," March 28, 2011
PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Rev. Jesse Jackson says Milwaukee is the most segregated city in American," April 18, 2011
Salon, "The 10 most segregated urban areas in America," March 29, 2011
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Milwaukee area tops Brookings segregation study of census data," Dec. 14, 2010
Business Insider, "The 25 most segregated cities in America," Nov. 22, 2013
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