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Poverty seems to be as much a part of Milwaukee as wind chills in winter.
In 2009, the city’s poverty rate was fourth-highest among the nation’s big cities, according to census figures released in September 2010.
But in an interview published Dec. 15, 2010, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, a four-term Democrat who represents the city, told a Milwaukee weekly newspaper she represents the fourth-poorest congressional district in the country.
Could that also be true?
Moore made the comment in response to a question from the Shepherd Express about whether there was a rift between congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama:
"I’m a congressional Democrat and I don’t have any rift with President Obama at all," Moore said. "I think that he is operating in an entirely different arena than I’m dealing in. I represent my constituents in the Fourth Congressional District. I’m looking out admittedly for much more narrow interests. I represent the fourth-poorest district (in the nation)."
While the Fourth Congressional District encompasses Milwaukee, it also covers a middle-class swath of Milwaukee County that includes West Allis and Cudahy.
Is it really the fourth-poorest district in the nation?
Moore spokesman, David Frey, gave us two replies when we asked for evidence to back up Moore’s statement.
Initially, Frey said Moore based her comment on a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article about the census figures released in September. They showed 27 percent of Milwaukee residents lived below the federal poverty level in 2009.
The headline on that story called Milwaukee the nation’s fourth-poorest city. However, the first two paragraphs of the article, and a chart that appeared with it, made it clear Milwaukee was the fourth-poorest among big cities -- those with populations above 250,000.
Frey later said Moore misspoke in the Shepherd Express interview, and had meant to say she represents America’s fourth-poorest city, not its fourth-poorest congressional district. Frey said Moore has called Milwaukee the nation’s fourth-poorest city a number of times.
That explanation doesn’t quite stack up, either.
As noted, the city ranked fourth among large cities, behind Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo. Among all cities covered by the census data -- the comparison Frey said Moore was making -- Milwaukee ranked 46th in poverty.
As for the 2009 poverty rates among the nation’s 435 congressional districts, Moore’s Milwaukee-based district -- at 25.6 percent -- ranked 18th. The highest rate was 38 percent, in the New York City congressional district that includes the Bronx. That district is represented by Democrat Jose Serrano.
It’s daunting to describe how devastating poverty is in Milwaukee; this item is not aimed at downplaying the city’s ranking. But exaggerating it doesn’t help, either.
Milwaukee Ald. Michael Murphy recently claimed the income disparity between the city and suburban Mequon is the highest in the country; and former acting mayor Marvin Pratt, claimed that black male unemployment in Milwaukee is above 50 percent. We found both assertions False.
Moore also overstates the case.
Her spokesman said Moore meant to say Milwaukee is the nation’s fourth-poorest city, not that her district is the nation’s fourth-poorest congressional district. But even that ranking is correct only when considering the nation’s largest cities.
We rate Moore’s statement False.
Shepherd Express, Congresswoman Gwen Moore on taxes, the war on the poor and high-speed rail, Dec. 15, 2010
E-mail interview, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore communications director David Frey, Dec. 20, 2010, and interview, Dec. 28, 2010
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee now fourth-poorest city in nation, Sept. 28, 2010
U.S. Census, Percentage of People Below Poverty Level by Place, 2009
U.S. Census, Percentage of People Below Poverty Level by Congressional District, 2009
Websites of congressional representatives in 18 poorest districts
PolitiFact Wisconsin, Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy says Mequon and Milwaukee have the highest income disparity in the country, Nov. 12, 2010
PolitiFact Wisconsin, Marvin Pratt, former acting mayor of Milwaukee, says black male unemployment tops 50 percent, Nov. 17, 2010
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