Poverty in Milwaukee

The War on Poverty

“It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won.”
State of the Union address, Jan. 8, 1964

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared unconditional war on poverty. The bold initiative created several landmark safety-net programs and legislation, including food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and the Fair Housing Act.

During this year, the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service will examine successful and failed public policies intended to address poverty in our city. We will also put a face on poverty by taking a look at those who struggle to make ends meet in Milwaukee.

Micro lawn-mowing businesses put food on table for poor laborers
by Brendan O’Brien

For a few dollars, landscapers mow lawns and clear brush for homeowners and small businesses.

Kids, parents pass on parks, playgrounds in favor of street hoops
by Brendan O’Brien

Makeshift basketball hoops and courts in the middle of city streets allow parents to keep a watchful eye on their children.


Teenage entrepreneurs sell water bottles to thirsty motorists
by Brendan O’Brien

Otis Lynn, 14, and his friends sell bottled water to passersby on the corner of Hadley and 35th streets in the Sherman Park neighborhood.

Street corner retailers sell wares to make ends meet
by Brendan O’Brien

Shaky Jake and his associates make a living by “buying from the rich to sell to the poor.”


Low-income car owners rely on street mechanics to remain mobile
by Brendan O’Brien

When cars break down or need maintenance, owners seek inexpensive labor and street mechanics make a living.

Corner stores fill need for convenience, companionship
by Brendan O’Brien

Milwaukee’s hundreds of corner stores are microcosms of their neighborhoods.


Milwaukee’s poor feel the pinch of food stamp cuts
by Brendan O’Brien

Experts and recipients say two cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are making it more difficult for people to eat healthy and make ends meet.

MPD outreach team helps care for, count the homeless
by Brendan O’Brien

The semi-annual count of homeless people helps city agencies that serve them get federal funding and glean a better understanding of the effectiveness of efforts to reduce homelessness.


Subzero temperatures leave hungry people out in the cold
by Rick Brown

As Milwaukee endured its coldest weather in nearly 20 years, some local food pantries and meal programs were forced to temporarily close, leaving some low-income residents without access to food.

Scrappers brave the elements trying to make ends meet
by Brendan O’Brien

Pushing strollers or grocery carts on foot, or loading flat bed trucks with discarded metal and cans, scrappers are part of Milwaukee’s bustling underground economy.