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Millennial Task Force - Research Evaluated


To inform meeting discussions, Task Force members conducted and shared research related to various topics, problems, and opportunities salient to Milwaukee’s Millennial cohort. The Legislative Reference Bureau supported these efforts by providing local and national publications and survey results in order to aid members’ ideas and proposals with background material.

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  Census Data Illustrates Brain Drain

Data conveying Milwaukee’s brain drain phenomenon align with the Task Force’s anecdotal experiences of seeing friends and relatives grow up in Milwaukee and later depart for a new city. Members evaluated US Census data spanning the past ten years to understand the migration patterns of Milwaukee residents among various age groups. According to the Census, the college-age cohort was the largest group to leave the Milwaukee metro area between 2011 and 2015. Over this time frame, Milwaukee had a net loss of 2,412 18- and 19-year-olds on average per year. 1,352 graduates, or over half of those who left, migrated to Dane County, suggesting many young people leave the city to attend school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in spite of the local opportunities offered by schools such as University Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marquette University, and Milwaukee Area Technical College.

More recent data show that Milwaukee’s overall metro area population rose by 19,000, or 1.2%, between 2010 and 2018. v It is important to note that this number has remained steady for the last decade because of Milwaukee’s relatively high birth rate, which masks the net loss of migrating residents each year. Milwaukee’s total net migration has dropped sharply in recent years: between 2010 and 2014, the city’s net migration was - 5,113 people, while between 2014 and 2018, the net migration dropped to -9,425 people.vi Additionally, Milwaukee’s overall modest population increase of 1.2% over the past decade is contrasted by the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area’s overall growth of 306,000, or 9.2%, and Kansas City’s and Indianapolis’ respective metro growth rates of 7.4% and 9.9%.vii

In analyzing the entire Metro Statistical Area (MSA) of Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington counties, since 2010 there have been 59,000 more births than deaths, which is comparably a strong figure. However, even though 25,000 more people immigrated to the area from another country than emigrated away, Milwaukee’s MSA ranks 370th out of 384 US metro areas in net domestic migration. Milwaukee’s metro area had a net loss of 39,000 people in the past decade, which is highlighted by a substantial net population loss among young adults aged 18 or 19 years old; on average, each year approximately 6,500 arrive while 10,000 leave.

  Educational Trends and Issues

The Task Force sought to identify trends among students in the K-12 and higher education systems in Milwaukee and to assess ideas for ameliorating student debt. Members shared Milwaukee Public Schools’ spring 2018 senior exit survey responses in which 66% of respondents reported they planned to go to a two- or four-year college upon graduation and 16% planned to attend a university out of state.viii Of those enrolled in a college or university, 24% planned to attend Milwaukee Area Technical College, 11% planned to attend UW-Milwaukee, 4% planned to attend UW-Madison, and 3% planned to attend Marquette University.

The Task Force also shared higher education enrollment data, including UWMilwaukee’s figures showing undergraduate enrollment decreased from 24,678 in 2011 to 18,493 in 2020, while total graduate students fell from 5,090 to 4,511 over that same time span.ix Meanwhile, the number of total students originating from the state of Wisconsin enrolled at Marquette University dropped from 6,222 in 2005 to 4,831 in 2020.x Additionally, a recent survey of Marquette undergraduates found that in 2015, 58% of students sought to stay in Wisconsin immediately upon graduation, while in 2019 that number had dropped to 50%.xi Given the high rate of student loan debt, members shared news clips concerning debt relief, such as the State of Wisconsin’s newly-created Task Force endeavoring to reduce the average student’s loan debt of $29,569.xii Members also considered Chicago’s new “Fresh Start” program which allows City College students to erase their debt if they return to school to complete their degree.xiii

  Transportation and Infrastructure

The Task Force evaluated many local documents, national studies, and peer city transportation initiatives to craft solutions for Milwaukee’s infrastructure problems. Members reviewed the City’s 2018 Complete Streets Policy and the 2019 “Milwaukee Complete Streets Health and Equity Report”, which explores the Department of Public Works’ planning and implementation processes utilized to “support economic growth, improve access to education and jobs, enhance urban design, encourage physical activity, and reduce negative environmental impacts.”xiv The report details the City’s 2019 work, which entailed completing 22 infrastructure projects, creating 1.2 miles of protected bike lanes, and a N. Hawley Road case study demonstrating that the reduction from two lanes to one in each direction led to a 45% decrease in the number of drivers exceeding 40 miles per hour.

Members considered the implications of national research on infrastructure issues affecting Millennials, such as 2014 survey findings that quality transportation is among the top three criteria for choosing where to live for 66% of Millennials, and that 54% of Millennials would consider moving to another city if it had more and better transportation options.xv Unsurprisingly, another study found that Millennials are more likely to live in neighborhoods with sidewalks, parks and public transit nearby, while neighborhood walkability correlated with respondents’ reporting a higher quality of life.xvi Research also demonstrates that “for every 1 percent change toward a more compact and connected urban form, all-mode traffic fatality rates fell by 1.49 percent and pedestrian fatality rates fell by 1.47 to 3.56 percent,” but that people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to live in areas with poorer-quality infrastructure, and are more likely to be involved in traffic collisions.xvii The inequities in neighborhood and transportation infrastructure are further underscored by a 2016 publication that discovered that “among pedestrians that had been involved in a collision with a car, Black pedestrians were 22 percent more likely and Latinos 33 percent more likely to die from their injuries than whites.”

The Task Force also reviewed peer city examples of multimodal transportation projects that connect residents and workers with jobs, grocery stores, doctor’s offices and entertainment. Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue corridor saw a doubling of jobs after the HealthLine bus rapid transit was installed in 2008.xviii In Indianapolis, the creation of a biking and walking path known as the Cultural Trail helped increase adjacent property values by $1 billion, with businesses recording higher sales, and residents reporting that they feel safer downtown. xix Additionally, to achieve Pittsburgh’s transportation goals which include reducing street deaths and ensuring households can access fresh fruits and vegetables without a private vehicle, that city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure plans to add 156 miles of safe bicycle facilities. xx

  Racial and Policing Issues Affecting Millennials

The Task Force shared local and national reports related to racial and policing issues, including a 2020 poll found that of people aged 13 to 25, 88% believe Black Americans are treated differently than others, while 83% of respondents felt that police use too much force in the US.xxi Additionally, a 2020 study by the US Chamber of Commerce found that people of color face educational barriers that lead to significant skill and employment gaps, while the average white family net worth of $171,000 is nearly 10 times greater than the average Black family’s net worth of $17,150.xxii

The Task Force stayed abreast of the Common Council’s efforts to reform policing in Milwaukee, analyzing Common Council Files 200320, 200430, and 200431. These resolutions urge the Fire and Police Commission to adopt de-escalation and restraint polices along with implementing emotional intelligence and cultural competency requirements for the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD). Members also studied Common Council File Number 200259, passed prior to the 2021 budget process, which directed the City’s Budget Director to develop a draft City budget that hypothetically envisioned a 10% reduction to MPD’s allocation.

  Peer City Strategies to Combat Segregation

In consideration of Milwaukee’s deeply segregated neighborhoods by race and socioeconomic class, the Task Force studied efforts by peer cities to ameliorate this difficult problem. In large part, expanding affordable housing and placemaking represent two common strategies championed by public and private leaders working to create mixed-income neighborhoods. In Dallas, officials seek to build affordable housing in struggling areas by offering incentives to landlords through a rental voucher sublease program, while bolstering incentives and requirements for developers.xxiii Meanwhile, a 2019 Urban Institute article explains that placemaking, which involves designing areas that create a unique environment, a sense of belonging, and a higher quality of life, often includes activities such as installing parks, art, and sidewalks.xxiv Detroit’s public and private-led placemaking efforts such as Opportunity Detroit demonstrate high-level dedication to providing concentrated investment into areas with blight and vacancy to revitalize buildings, better connect neighborhoods, and create desirable public spaces.

  National Studies on Millennial Trends and Preferences

Finally, members evaluated trends and preferences of young people on a national scale to help inform their recommendations to the Common Council. A 2018 Pew survey illustrates the racial diversity of the “post-Millennial” generation, or people who were between the ages of 6 and 21, with 48% representing non-white groups.xxv The survey also found that among 18- to 20-year-olds, 59% were enrolled in college in 2017, compared to 53% in 2002.

A 2018 policy journal report notes that Millennials tend to rent rather than buy homes, and strongly prefer quick commutes, walkable neighborhoods, and transportation access. xxvi Among homebuying Millennials, the most important factors were neighborhood quality, convenience to jobs, and affordability. Similarly, a 2016 report shows that for people born between 1982 and 1998, their top priorities in a city are a thriving job market, affordable rent and home prices, parks and hiking trails, and local restaurants. xxvii Nation-wide, a greater number of well-educated Millennials are choosing to move into cities. Since 2010, the number of 25- to 34- year olds with a 4-year degree concentrating in dense neighborhoods has grown by 32%, and well-educated young adults are 3.5 times more likely to live in dense urban neighborhoods than the typical resident of a large metro area. xxiii

  Miscellaneous Research Topics

The Task Force also shared articles and reports on miscellaneous topics, including:

  • Wisconsin Policy Forum report noting that Milwaukee’s “fragmented” affordable housing leadership could attract tens of millions of dollars, similar to Detroit, by building a more robust, organized structure and devoting more attention to acquiring private funds.xxix
  • Legislative Reference Bureau memo regarding procurement programs in peer cities that incentivize socially-responsible hiring by city contractors and vendors, such as Chicago’s increased bid incentives for hiring women and minority workers for locallyfunded construction projects with a minimum value of $100,000.
  • City of Milwaukee’s 2015-2016 Community Health Assessment, which compares Milwaukee’s health-related metrics to Wisconsin and the US.
  • City of Milwaukee COVID-19 Data Summary and Milwaukee County COVID-19 Dashboard.
  • League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County report highlighting the voting behaviors of Milwaukee’s Latinx community.
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