A city not working

The next mayor of Chicago is going to have a big burden on his or her shoulders trying to ensure that “the city that works” really works.

In this issue’s cover story, “Loopholes,” Reporter Angela Caputo gives us a glimpse of the city’s job market. In recent years, this story has been told in Chicago from the lens of the number of people who are unemployed. We all cringed when the unemployment rate hit double digits last year. But Caputo takes a different look. Her sobering report focuses on the number of jobs available in the city–”particularly held by Chicagoans–”and compares that number with the cost the city has spent on economic development in the Loop through Tax Increment Financing Districts.

Caputo’s basic question: “Did Chicagoans get their money’s worth?” If you live south of 43rd Street, the answer is: “No way.”

Residents in these areas–”especially those who are black and living on the South Side–”are the ones suffering from the loss of most downtown jobs. The city has spent nearly a billion dollars to make the Loop look good. But have we become a world-class city at the expense of these residents? Chicago neighborhoods have the worst chronic unemployment in the nation, and Illinois has horrific unemployment numbers when it comes to young black men, as noted in a story on page 5. And now Caputo’s report has confirmed what many have long suspected–”that Chicagoans who need the Loop jobs the most aren’t getting them or able to hang onto them.

On the heels of these abysmal statistics, I heard the news that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was going to build a new store in the city. Based on the company’s history, wages certainly won’t be top-notch. But, still, I’m certain there were many people wiping the sweat from their brow and looking at the plan as an opportunity to finally get back into the job market, get health insurance, buy fresh produce–”something many of us take for granted–”and bust down boarded-up storefronts to make way for other economic development that would surely be spurred by the big-box development.

But the good news was short-lived. The store was going up in the Lakeview neighborhood. Of all the communities that need economic development, jobs and a grocer, Lakeview isn’t the first one that comes to mind.

People on the South Side need jobs. They need economic development. Under the current administration, South Siders didn’t reap the full benefit of the nearly $1 billion the city spent to make the Loop fancy.

The wedge between disadvantaged communities and advantaged ones appears to be widening when it comes to economic development. If Chicago is truly a world-class city, leaders must figure out how everyone can benefit.

Can the next mayor get the city that works working?

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