Living in Wisconsin is affordable for many people who want a reasonable cost of living place. If you want the variety, history, and entertainment options of a big city, but with shorter commutes and a laid-back Midwestern vibe, Milwaukee, WI may be the place for you.
It has an upscale side, especially in trendy districts like the Historic Third Ward, and its proximity to Chicago helps to attract exceptional entertainment and dining options, while its rural surroundings keep it grounded.
Here’re 7 Key Things You Should Know Before Moving to Milwaukee, WI.
Table of Contents:
1. Lifestyle in Milwaukee
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 architecture and neighborhoods flaunt its history, from its industrial roots to its historic influx of German, Polish, Italian, and Irish immigrants.
It’s a city that loves its sports, beer, festivals, and music, and local culture ranges from the refined (like the architecturally impressive Milwaukee Art Museum on the shore of Lake Michigan) to the down-home (like the traditional Friday fish fry).
Bolstered by its central location and high-volume international airport, Milwaukee attracts a constant stream of new ideas and opportunities.
Wisconsin is a friendly and casual place to enjoy all four seasons. Best known for its dairy farms and pro sports, it is also home to tech companies and a world-class research university. We assign a HOMEiA Score for each city, which provides an overall assessment of its safety and appeal as a place to call home…
2. The Cost of Living in Milwaukee, WI
One of the great things about living in Milwaukee is that you get all the benefits while spending less than you would in most big cities in the United States. It means the cost of living in Milwaukee, WI is cheaper than the US average.
Affordable housing is one of the main factors. 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 you’ll pay more in Milwaukee is health care, but it’s not all bad news. You’ll get more for the money, as Wisconsin is widely considered to have high-quality health systems.
MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, which estimates how much individuals would have to earn to support themselves in a given geographical area, indicates that a single adult can get by on around $24,000 per year in Milwaukee, and a family with two working adults and two kids would need about $62,000.
Compare that to similarly-sized Portland, Oregon, where you’d need $30,000 for a single adult and over $75,000 for two kids with childcare to have the same quality of life. Milwaukee is a bargain!
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3. Home Price in Milwaukee
Home costs in Milwaukee are one of the main reasons that the city is so affordable. According to the Wisconsin Realtors Association, the median home price in Milwaukee County was around $160,000 at the end of 2019, about 86% of the statewide median price; both are well below the national rate.
Buying a house at that price (with 10% down, a 30-year mortgage, and around 4% interest) would cost about $894 per month—barely $50 over the median gross rental payment. Taking equity into account, that makes home ownership in Milwaukee a pretty good deal.
There’s something for everyone here. If you want to be near all the action, explore the high-rise condo buildings downtown. Some will even give you a stunning lake view. If you prefer plenty of space, you’ll find large properties and spacious newer homes in the suburbs.
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4. Safety & Health Care
If health care quality matters to you (and it surely does!), you will be pleased to know that Wisconsin is often ranked among the top few states. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality scored Wisconsin fourth among all states in its 2018 report, and top among all states in the Midwest.
The state rated in the top category (“Very Strong”) in a number of crucial areas, including acute care and hospital care as well as treatment for cardiovascular and chronic kidney disease.
The Milwaukee area is a leader in research and medical training, home to both the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center (which includes the Blood Research Institute) and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is nationally ranked in nine pediatric specialties by US News and World Report.
Advocate Aurora Health is the largest health care system in the metro area, and other options include Ascension Health, Froedtert Health, and ProHealth Care.
In the 2019 Downtown Milwaukee Perceptions Report, most respondents reported that they generally feel safe spending time downtown.
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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 health care 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.
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6. Education in Milwaukee, WI
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 U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 Top High Schools. Private schools offer an alternative to the public system, and the broader Milwaukee 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.
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7. Climate in Milwaukee
The summers in Milwaukee can be beautiful, if a bit muggy. Average high temperatures peak in July around 80 degrees, 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.
While folks from some states fear the cold, Milwaukeeans take pride in their resilience and ability to enjoy the full range of seasons. They get a big laugh out of seeing warm cities shut down over a dusting of snow!
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.
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