"We must continue working to make sure that our economic growth extends across all parts of Chicago and into every neighborhood..."
— Rahm Emanuel
Chicago's economy is getting stronger, but improvements and jobs are not spread equally.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has had some big wins on economic issues. During his term so far, 30 new corporate headquarters have moved to the city, and he has been praised in the media for creating a booming start-up culture. Plus, the city overhauled some job training programs, passed a higher minimum wage, and overall unemployment is down.
But it appears the positive changes are not reaching everyone. While the Central Business District has added a significant number of jobs during Emanuel’s first term, the Southwest Side, for example, has added very few. And it is not just where the jobs are located, it’s who gets those jobs. As of 2013, black unemployment was hovering around 25 percent, not significantly different than it was when the mayor took office. Poverty, too, has barely budged.
It is a growing and improving economy, just like in other cities across the country. But just like those other cities, Chicago’s economy is only growing for some, not for all.
Of course, the city only has so much control over private sector employment. But gaps between different communities also appear when you look at what has happened in the area of employment the city has the most control over: local public-sector jobs.
The impact of these jobs is not insignificant. Public-sector jobs have long been a door to the middle-class for communities of color. Crain’s Chicago Business rankings put the City of Chicago as the third largest employer in Chicago. Chicago Public Schools is number two. Both have seen jobs disappear under Emanuel.
According to numbers WBEZ analyzed from the Chicago Teachers Union, more than six times the number of black teachers than white teachers have disappeared from district, non-charter classrooms. Analysis by the Chicago Reader showed that residents on the South Side lost many more city jobs than residents on the North Side. City officials say some of those employees were rehired by private companies partnering with the city.
On Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign website a banner reads: “Making Chicago’s economy work for everyone.” The numbers suggest that parts of the economy have improved since 2011, but there are still big swaths of the city yet to feel that growth.