The Crisis in Milwaukee’s Service Industry

Laura Dresser, and Pablo Aquiles-Sanchez. The Crisis in Milwaukee’s Service Industry. COWS, 2022.

There’s a crisis in service work in Milwaukee. Too many of these jobs—in food service, janitorial work, security services, and human and health services—offer low wages, inadequate and often unpredictable hours, and benefits packages that are usually weak, if they exist at all. For Milwaukee, these jobs have been a sorry replacement for the good union manufacturing jobs that once defined opportunity in the city. This economic transformation has especially damaged Milwaukee’s Black community, resulting in extreme racial disparity.

All of this was well documented before COVID-19. In the last two years, the underlying crisis in these jobs has been exposed and it has grown. Until we build a strong, consistent floor of better wages, more predictable hours, and stronger benefits in these jobs, the crisis will continue.

The City of Milwaukee can help to lead this effort. In every aspect of policy, the City can seek to strengthen job quality, raise labor standards, and support and build a high-road approach to service work in the city.

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