Community Context and Challenges

  • In 2014, the unemployment rate in Milwaukee was 13%, nearly twice the state average (7%).

  • Poverty affects nearly 29% of Milwaukee residents and disproportionately affects minorities, with 37% of black and 28% of Hispanic residents living at or below the federal poverty line, compared with 16% of white residents.

  • Milwaukee residents experience chronic illnesses such as asthma (15%) and diabetes (10%) at higher rates compared with state- (10%; 9%) and nation-wide (9%;10%) averages.

  • Among adults in Milwaukee, 18% have not earned a high school diploma, compared to 9% in Wisconsin; 21% of black and 42% of Hispanic residents hold less than a high school diploma, compared to 8% of white residents.

  • Black residents are twice as likely as white residents to describe their health as fair or poor and Hispanics report symptoms of depression more than twice as often as white residents.

Community Actions: A First Look

With their sights set on creating a healthier Milwaukee, a wide range of community partners from many sectors are working to develop a sound environmental and economic future for the city

A multi-sector redevelopment initiative launched in 2013 intertwines a road map for economic growth with efforts to preserve and enhance the city’s natural resources, now and in the future.


These baseline reports, created in 2016, track community programs and initiatives in their early stages and measure initial progress only. Future reports will provide more in-depth insights and analysis into this community's efforts to build a Culture of Health.

Going Forward: Questions for Consideration

Despite deeply rooted economic and racial challenges, Milwaukee is leveraging partnerships to improve social and economic conditions and expand health equity for all of its residents. Ongoing progress is likely to depend on the sustained participation of private and public partners and the continued improvement in the region’s economy. Additional surveillance, data and information gathering, analysis, and reporting will examine how these partnerships are working to improve economic opportunities for all residents and address longstanding racial disparities in health outcomes.

The following questions provide opportunities for further exploration:

  • What progress has the Mayor’s Re/Fresh Milwaukee plan for sustainability and economic growth had on goals related to residents’ health and well-being, such as rehabilitating old buildings, expanding transit options, and increasing options for healthy, local sources of food?

  • To what extent can the information management resources of Milwaukee city agencies accelerate efforts for population health improvement?

  • To what extent has input from the city’s historically underserved black community been sought and reflected in ambitious citywide plans?

  • What progress has been made on Milwaukee’s new initiative to build safe and healthy neighborhoods? To what extent is community input informing the decisions about where resources are spent?

  • What effect has the longstanding political friction between Wisconsin’s Republican Governor and Milwaukee’s Democratic Mayor had on efforts to direct spending to Milwaukee’s priority areas?

  • Does evidence indicate that Milwaukee residents with health insurance provided under the federal insurance marketplace can access health care services, especially in underserved areas?