Opinion

David Rohde

In Milwaukee, an evaporating middle class

David Rohde
Dec 15, 2011 23:22 UTC

MILWAUKEE — As Washington and Madison fiddle, this city’s middle class is in slow free fall.

First, the numbers. From 1970 to 2007, the percentage of families in the Milwaukee metropolitan area that were middle class declined from 37 to 24 percent, according to a new analysis by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.


(Click on the photo above for a slideshow) During the same period, the proportion of affluent families grew from 22 to 27 percent–while the percentage of poor households swelled from 23 to 31 percent. In short, Milwaukee’s middle class families went from a plurality to its smallest minority. 

The biggest culprit is the disappearance of well-paying manufacturing jobs. Despite a promising recent uptick in high-end manufacturing, Milwaukee has suffered a 40 percent decline in manufacturing jobs since 1970, when Schlitz, Pabst and American Motors reigned. Instead of shrinking, the city’s urban poverty is creeping outward toward suburbs.

Late Wednesday afternoon, that was evident in the Jefferson Elementary school of West Allis, a once solidly middle class suburb bordering Milwaukee. In a crowded school gymnasium, principal Shelly Strasser said that fifty percent of students now qualify for free or reduced price school lunch programs. In other local schools, the number is ninety percent.

Will “Made in America” sell in China?

David Rohde
Nov 3, 2011 21:53 UTC

Update: My apologies. In the first version of this column, I confused two different Camaro models. A corrected version is below.

SHANGHAI –When the third film in Hollywood’s Transformers franchise debuted here in July, vast numbers of young Chinese flocked to movie theaters — and Chevrolet dealerships. Wealthy moviegoers wanted to buy one of the film’s half-car, half robot main characters, a bright yellow Chevrolet Camaro coupe called “Bumblebee.”

“Everyone knew Bumblebee,” said Richard Choi, the director of sales and marketing for Chevrolet in Shanghai. “I had to get the press guys to call it Camaro, not Bumblebee.”

Can Confucius save America’s middle class?

David Rohde
Oct 6, 2011 14:45 UTC

Update: Sorry, in the first version of this column I confused two different companies. The corrected version is below.

BOWLING GREEN, KENTUCKY–For decades, this bucolic corner of southwestern Kentucky depended on Corvette sales from the local GM plant for its economic life. Now, it’s trying something different.

Last year, the state university opened a “Confucius Institute” that offers nighttime Chinese language classes to local business people. An American auto parts company chose to create 280 new manufacturing jobs here instead of Mexico. And government officials brag about the 19 companies from India, Japan, Finland, Germany, Israel and other foreign countries that have invested locally.

  •