7 Factors Rank Milwaukee as one of the Best Cities in Wisconsin
Author: KAP Realty
If you want the variety, history, and diversity of a big city, but with shorter commutes and a laid-back Midwestern vibe, Milwaukee, Wisconsin may be the place for you. Its facilities and proximity to Chicago raise the bar for entertainment and dining, while its rural surroundings keep it grounded.
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Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin, with around 600,000 residents in the city itself and roughly 1.6 million in the wider metro area. Its strong ethnic heritage (thanks to German, Polish, Italian, and Irish immigrants) and the signs of its industrial roots shine through in its neighborhoods. Today the population is the most diverse in the state, a mosaic of races and ethnicities.
It’s a city that loves its sports, beer, festivals, and music, and local culture ranges from the down-home fish fry to the architecturally impressive Milwaukee Art Museum on the shore of Lake Michigan. And thanks to its proximity to Chicago and its high-volume international airport, Milwaukee benefits from the constant churn of new ideas and opportunities.
2. Cost of Living
Living in Milwaukee will cost you less than the average in the U.S., and much less than most cities its size. Affordable housing is the main factor. Unlike Minneapolis and Chicago, Milwaukee boasts rent and home prices under the national average, and it beats the national index for goods and services, groceries, and utilities, too. Average commute times of 22 minutes keep transportation costs low for most residents, and food costs compare well to those in the Northeast and the West.
One area where Milwaukee’s costs exceed the national index is health care; while care in Wisconsin is widely considered to be high-quality, the costs reflect that.
According to the US Census Bureau, the median household income in Milwaukee as of 2018 was about $40,000, due in part to a high poverty rate of 26.6%. In Milwaukee County, which includes some suburban areas, the median income is higher: about $49,000.
Home costs in Milwaukee are affordable for the city’s size. The median home cost in Milwaukee is only $123,100, compared to $188,100 in Wisconsin and $231,200 nationwide. The owner-occupied housing rate—people living in a home they own—is 41.8%. If you’re not ready to buy, the median gross rent is around $842.
If you happen to have a million or two lying around, on the other hand, you can buy a stunning lake-view penthouse or an elegant piece of history. Housing in the city is higher-density, but many of the surrounding suburbs feature large properties with very spacious newer homes.
4. Safety & Health Care
Milwaukee’s crime rates are higher, which is typical for Wisconsin and the Midwest overall, although crime levels vary greatly from one part of the city to another. A 2019 Perceptions Report showed that, when asked about Milwaukee’s downtown, residents rated it highly for improvement over the past year and for feeling safe.
Racial disparities plague the city in areas from education to incarceration to healthcare. The local government, which leans liberal, works to implement progressive policies intended to improve the situation, but Milwaukee remains more geographically segregated than most cities. As a result, safety and healthcare vary along with socioeconomics and historical inequalities.
The quality of healthcare available in Milwaukee is high, and the city has numerous hospitals, including those in the Aurora and Froedtert systems. Aurora St. Luke’s has earned US News & Report’s #1 in Milwaukee ranking, and Children’s Hospital and Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin also score well in several specialties.
MarketWatch lists Milwaukee in its top 20 U.S. metro areas for business, and Inc. magazine calls the region one of the 25 best places to do business. The metro area’s biggest employers include Aurora Health Care, Ascension Wisconsin, Froedtert Health, Kroger Co./Roundy’s, Kohl’s Corp., and Quad/Graphics, Inc. It is the headquarters for S.C. Johnson and for Fortune 1000 companies such as Northwestern Mutual, ManpowerGroup, Kohl’s, WEC Energy, Rockwell Automation, Fiserv, and Harley-Davidson.
About 277,000 people are employed in Milwaukee. The largest industries include healthcare and social assistance, manufacturing, and retail. The highest paid include finance and insurance; utilities; and professional, scientific, and technical services. Many people who work in the city are in production, office/administrative support, or sales-related roles.
If you have children, you’ll be happy to know that the Milwaukee Public School district offers 159 school options, serving 74,633 students. The district includes five of US News & World Report’s 2019 Top High Schools. Private schools offer an alternative to the public system, and the broader Milwaukee area has around 100 of them.
A number of postsecondary schools are located in Milwaukee, most notably the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with an enrollment of about 24,000 students, and the private Marquette University, a Jesuit Catholic college with about 12,000 students. Milwaukee Area Technical College offers opportunities for the whole city, whether full-time, part-time, or just taking an evening class.
The summers in Milwaukee can be beautiful, if a bit muggy. Average high temperatures peak in July around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but highs can easily climb into the 90s, and the record is 105. June is the rainiest month, averaging 3.5 inches.
In the winter, average temperature lows dip to 18 degrees in January, and weather forecasts in the winter often feature negative numbers. On the coldest days—the kind that close schools—temps may fall to minus 10 degrees or colder, and the wind chill can be much lower than that. Snowfall varies widely year to year, but may average around 40 inches.
To sum up, Milwaukee has something for everyone, whether your tastes run high-end or low-brow. As long as you appreciate beer and cheer for the Brewers, this community will suit you (and if you don’t, just prepare for some good-natured ribbing). There’s always something to do here, especially in summer months when the calendar is full of festivals (including Summerfest, billed as the world’s largest) and the State Fair (try the cream puffs!). It’s the best of the Midwest with an urban twist.