Black Chicago by the numbers

Black Chicago under Rahm

Illustration by The Illustrated Press

When Rahm Emanuel ran for mayor four years ago, African-American voters pulled him across the finish line without a run-off. He won about six out of every 10 votes cast in predominantly black wards—largely on the say-so of his former boss, President Barack Obama. But as the February mayoral election nears, Emanuel’s approval ratings among the voters who carried him to City Hall have tumbled, according to a Chicago Tribune poll. 

Some stark numbers underscore the mayor’s slipping support in the black community, based on an analysis of city, federal, state and school data by The Chicago Reporter and Catalyst Chicago. The numbers center on two areas: jobs and schools. 

Twenty-five percent of African-Americans in the city were unemployed last year. There are three unemployed black people for every one jobless white Chicagoan. 

The unemployment rate for blacks barely budged between 2010 and 2013, yet unemployment among whites in the city fell from 10 percent to 7 percent.

Workers from predominantly black ZIP codes accounted for nearly half, 40 percent, of the 5,000 city government jobs eliminated since 2009, two years before Emanuel took office. More than 1,600 Chicago Public Schools employees in those neighborhoods were also laid off. 

Predominantly black community areas lost 20 percent of their teachers, counselors and other members of the Chicago Teachers Union between 2011 and 2014. 

The number of privately run schools in black community areas has almost doubled, to 31 percent from 18 percent, since the mayor took office, despite widespread concerns about privatization. 

Seventy-seven percent of the $311 million spent on building new schools or annexes has gone to white communities, though the sites serve about 30 percent of CPS students.

The mayor’s team points to programs like Chicago Neighborhoods Now—a mayoral initiative to coordinate economic development, housing and improvements in quality of life—that includes the mostly black communities of Englewood, Bronzeville and Pullman. In Englewood, for example, a city spokesperson boasts of a $362 million public-private investment that is expected to create 500 permanent jobs and more than 3,000 temporary construction jobs, and retain more than 500 jobs. Emanuel’s education supporters emphasize his investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula in neighborhood schools, as well as extra help for failing schools.

But in the South and West Side neighborhoods where most of the city’s African-American population lives, expectations of the mayor have dimmed. Some of the numbers reflect larger economic and social trends. Some reflect the consequences of his policies. 

It’s all about the numbers—and how they are perceived.

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