COWS: Releases new report on low wage service jobs in Milwaukee

Today, COWS released Facts from the Frontline: Getting By in Milwaukee’s Abundant Low Wage Service Jobs, a deep look into the city’s low-wage service jobs across multiple industries and occupations. The report, a collaboration with the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH) and Kids Forward, finds that more than 100,000 of Milwaukee residents make less than $15 per hour.

“There can be no solution to Milwaukee’s most pressing economic problems, including its racial divide, without sustained attention to improving work and wages in these jobs,” said COWS Associate Director Laura Dresser, who authored the report. 

A few key findings: 

Of the 242,000 workers who live in Milwaukee, over 40 percent earn less than $15 per hour. Black and brown workers are much more likely to hold these low-wage jobs.

For the more than 100,000 Milwaukee workers paid under $15 per hour, only 47 percent have health insurance through their work. For the city’s workers with better paying jobs, 80 percent get this benefit from their employer. 

While roughly 30 percent of Milwaukee’s white workers hold very low-wage jobs, 51 percent of its Black workers and 56 percent of its Hispanic workers do. 

Milwaukee’s low-wage jobs are concentrated in specific industries. 

Just three industries – Arts, Accommodation, and Food ServiceRetail Trade; and Education, Health Care, and Social Assistance – account for more than 60 percent of the city’s low-wage jobs. In these industries and each occupation we analyzed, Black and brown workers are much more likely than their white peers to hold very low-wage jobs.

Milwaukee workers are mobilizing to improve the city’s service jobs.

Alongside the data, this report profiles Milwaukee service workers who are at the forefront of improving the city’s low-wage jobs. Workers consistently point to the ways union representation is building stronger job quality and security in their work. 

“Milwaukee’s service industries increasingly define and constrain economic opportunity for workers leaving too many of them in poverty, without health insurance, and struggling to support their children,” said Dresser. “Improving these now abundant service jobs is essential to securing a stronger and more equal Milwaukee.”

Facts from the Frontline, along with its companion reports Playing with Public Money in Milwaukee: Data, Context, and Questions on Soccer Stadiums and Worker Power Levels the Playing Field: Community Benefits for Public Subsidies in the Iron District, aim to bring greater public attention to the crisis in Milwaukee’s service jobs and the concrete public and private strategies that can improve them. 

Facts from the Frontline is a product of the “EARN in the Midwest” project in Wisconsin, a collaborative of COWSMilwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH), and Kids Forward.

Read the full report at: