Eugene Kane, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's resident purveyor of "victim mentality" broke with tradition today and offered significant insight on Milwaukee's dubious distinction as the nation's fourth "poorest city."
Kane correctly laments why aren't more people outraged over this and then embraces this cogent analysis:
Years ago in Milwaukee, a high school graduate - or dropout - could get a good manufacturing job at any number of plants in the neighborhood. The factories had lots of jobs, all in support of a thriving national automobile industry, and some plants often ended up employing several members of a single family.
During those times, the take-home pay was so good - with overtime - that many workers managed to purchase their first homes and raise stable families with children who also looked to the factories for future employment.
Of course, it didn't last forever.
The decline of the industrial economy - with factories closing or moving away - spelled bleak times for a significant part of the working population, particularly in black Milwaukee, for decades to come.
Then Kane points out that the answer to the problem is jobs.
He's right. And he's also right that both major candidates for governor have given lip service to the need for more jobs.
I used to live in one of the nation's most impoverished, challenged and segregated cities in America: Benton Harbor, Michigan. Unlike many other challenged cities Benton Harbor's plight was not ignored by the more affluent who for over four decades poured millions into special programs -- private as well as government funded -- to rescue the city with negligible results. Since then I've oft lamented that perhaps the best thing Whirlpool Corporation, the city's major benefactor, could have done is to have simply continued to make washers there.
Where Kane misses the boat is that he hasn't gone far enough. Milwaukee must rely on its own people and resources to solve these peoplems. Madison can't. Washington can't. It's the people of Milwaukee who must take control of their own destiny. The battle to overcome poverty, crime, illegitimacy and other social ills starts one person, one family, one block at a time. Waiting for someone else to solve a problem would be like me waiting for Congress to find a way to make me thin.
The leadership must come from within. Sure, we can help the process but it must start with the people living in those challenged communities. They must be the catalysts for change. The cycle of dependency must end before real change can occur.
Perhaps the best thing would be a public-private partnership where enhanced resources would be provided for a limited time. We must be focused on the fact that the old industrial jobs aren't coming back and thus an educated workforce is the only way to go. However, Milwaukee has had educational opportunities but if people don't use them they are meaningless.
As I said, change comes first from within.