Poverty in Milwaukee

In 2014, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service reporter Brendan O’Brien examined the issue of poverty in Milwaukee from the ground up. From “scrappers” collecting discarded metal, to curbside mechanics who fix neighbors’ cars, to young men who sell bottled water on the street, O’Brien wrote about hard-working, creative and resilient individuals struggling to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families. The series also addressed how programs created by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “war on poverty”—the Fair Housing Act, Job Corps and food stamps—are playing out in Milwaukee half a century later. And it looks forward, reporting what experts say needs to be done now to alleviate poverty.

Explore our year of coverage

Poverty In Milwaukee: A year of coverage

Scrappers brave the elements trying to make ends meet
January 20, 2014

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.

MPD outreach team helps care for, count the homeless
February 6, 2014

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.

Milwaukee’s poor feel the pinch of food stamp cuts
March 13, 2014

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.

Corner stores fill need for convenience, companionship
April 23, 2014

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

Low-income car owners rely on street mechanics to remain mobile
May 9, 2014

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

Street corner retailers sell wares to make ends meet
June 16, 2014

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

Teenage entrepreneurs sell water bottles to thirsty motorists
July 10, 2014

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

Kids, parents pass on parks, playgrounds in favor of street hoops
July 22, 2014

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

Micro lawn-mowing businesses put food on table for poor laborers
August 19, 2014

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

Visitors to weekly bed giveaway dream of comfortable place to sleep
September 29, 2014

A community center called Adullam Outreach gives away donated mattresses, box springs and furniture on the city’s North Side.

Unemployed men turn to online marketplace to find manual labor jobs
October 6, 2014

Craigslist has become a virtual employment center for some Milwaukee men who place ads looking for odd jobs to do for strangers.

Medical examiner brings closure to families of deceased homeless people
November 3, 2014

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office investigates about 40 cases a year of unidentified and unclaimed bodies, many of whom are homeless.

Job Corps prepares young adults for realities of difficult job market
November 18, 2014

Job Corps, a federal program created 50 years ago as part of the War on Poverty, attempts to pull economically disadvantaged youth and young adults out of poverty.

War on poverty needs to be fought on new fronts, local experts say
December 10, 2014

Experts and advocates are calling for a greater focus on education, wages and assistance for childless adults to alleviate poverty.

After four decades of fair housing, segregation still rules Milwaukee streets
December 31, 2014

The Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968, is rarely used to combat segregation and restrictive suburban zoning regulations.

About the author

Brendan O’Brien

Brendan O’Brien is a staff reporter for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. During his years as a reporter and editor, O’Brien has covered breaking news, politics and governmental affairs for several news outlets, including Thomson Reuters and the Racine Journal Times.

O’Brien has a bachelor’s degree from DePaul University and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin Robert La Follette School of Public Affairs, where he focused on social policy such as poverty, employment and housing.

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Milwaukee NNS

Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (NNS) is an award-winning online source for objective, professional multimedia reporting on urban issues in 17 Milwaukee communities.

NNS covers stories that are important to the people who live, work and serve in city neighborhoods, on topics such as education, public safety, economic development, health and wellness, environment, recreation, employment, youth development and housing.

NNS has won several prestigious awards, including a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence from RTDNA (Radio Television Digital News Association) in March 2012, and journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club in 2013 and 2014. NNS is a project of United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee (UNCOM).

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