Jobs Trail


The greatest job growth in the six-county Chicago region occurred in municipalities with the lowest African-American populations. Collectively, more than 45,000 jobs were lost between 1991 and 2007 in the 14 area municipalities where African Americans make up at least 30 percent of the population. By contrast, the number of jobs grew by nearly 60,000 in the 41 area municipalities where African Americans make up less than 1 percent of the population.

Source: Illinois Department of Employment Security, U.S. Census Bureau, analyzed by The Chicago Reporter.

DATA: Click here to see the difference in job numbers from 1991 to 2007 in 139 municipalities.

The greatest job growth in the six-county Chicago region in the last 16 years occurred predominantly in municipalities with the lowest black population, according to The Chicago Reporter‘s analysis of payroll data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Of the 97 of 139 municipalities that experienced job growth in the Chicago region between 1991 and 2007, only five were more than 30 percent black in 2007. Those cities are South Holland, Calumet City, Broadview, Forest Park and North Chicago.

Of the 42 cities that experienced job loss during the same time period, nine–”more than 20 percent–”were more than 30 percent black.

The Reporter’s findings are based on the data that the Illinois Department of Employment Security reported for less than half of the municipalities in the Chicago-region. The department’s report includes 14 of the 33 Chicago-area communities that are more than 30 percent black.

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The Reporter’s findings are consistent with academic and government research. In fact, they dovetail with the results that the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning–”the government agency that integrates planning for land use and transportation in the seven counties of northeastern Illinois–”obtained while analyzing similar data. Neighborhoods with the least jobs are located in areas with the most affordable housing, says Lee Deuben, a housing and community development planner for the agency. These areas happen to be heavily black, Deuben says.

“If I were a betting person and I overlaid race, if I looked at where there are higher concentrations of African-American populations, I bet they would correlate closely with,” areas of low job growth, Deuben says.

“From what I know [about] Chicago, most of the middle- and low-skilled jobs in Chicago are moving to the northwest corridor,” says Michael A. Stoll, the professor and chair of the department of public policy at the University of California at Los Angeles. “For African-Americans most of their growth is to the South of the city. So there is a real mismatch. Does that pose employment challenges? Most people say that it does.”

At 10.9 percent, the rate of black unemployment in the Chicago area was, on average, five times greater in 2006 than the white rate, 2.8 percent, according to data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

The racial disparity in job growth and unemployment in the Chicago region hasn’t changed much since Ted Mouw, a University of North Carolina sociology professor, analyzed it in a 2000 study published in the American Sociological Review. The number of jobs that were within 10 miles of the average Chicago area African-American worker’s home decreased by 50,000, according to the study, which analyzed data from 1980 to 1990. The average white worker’s job pool grew by the same number.

Mouw found that a 10-percent loss in the number of jobs per worker would increase the black unemployment rate in the Chicago area by about 2.9 percentage points.

“Distance from job opportunities hinders the employment prospects of African Americans by imposing higher commuting costs, and by hampering knowledge of employment opportunities,” according to a 1998 working paper for the Joint Center for Poverty Research written by John Iceland, a University of Maryland Sociology professor, and professor David R. Harris, formerly of the University of Michigan.

Southside Chicago African-Americans who want to hitch their stars to the 65 percent job growth in McHenry County have two options–”move into a highly segregated white area or make a lengthy commute, most likely by car.

Fat chance finding affordable housing there that will rent to blacks, says Myron Orfield, director of the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota Law School. “Black families when they try to buy houses in white neighborhoods they put all sorts of obstacles up,” Orfield says. “They only show them one unit when they have 10. There’s also mortgage lending discrimination. Blacks get less money when they’re buying a house, even when they have the same characteristics as whites.”

Sociologists and economists call the growing distance between African Americans and jobs “spatial mismatch” and debate among themselves what it means. “What’s following what?” Stoll says. “Is it that employers are responding to changing demographics and they’re making decisions about where to move based on race? Is there a disconnect between certain demographic groups and the information about job growth? Do people know where jobs are in the metro area?”

Research shows that employers in neighborhoods with growing black populations are, in some cities, more likely to express plans to move. In Boston, every time the black population of a neighborhood went up 1 percent, the likelihood that an employer would leave the neighborhood went up 11 percent, according to Iceland’s 1998 study.

“These job-growth centers follow the growth,” says Robert Bullard, the director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. “Race is very potent in terms of where they locate. They’re not picking locations based on throwing darts at a wall randomly.”

Some Chicago employers were very candid about their disdain for black workers–”especially poor ones–”in groundbreaking interviews they granted two university researchers in 1988 and 1989.

“When asked whether they thought there were any differences in the work ethics of whites, blacks, and Hispanics, 37.7 percent of the employers ranked blacks last, 1.4 percent ranked Hispanics last, and no one ranked whites there,” Joleen Kirschenman and Kathryn M. Neckerman wrote in the 1991 anthology The Urban Underclass.

In one exchange with an interviewer, a suburban drug store manager said, “It’s unfortunate, but, in my business I think overall [black men] tend to be known to be dishonest. I think that’s too bad but that’s the image they have,” the unnamed drug store manager said.

“So you think it’s an image problem?” the interviewer asked.

“Yeah, a dishonest, an image problem of being dishonest men and lazy. They’re known to be lazy. They are [laughs]. I hate to tell you, but. It’s all an image though. Whether they are not or not, I don’t know, but it’s an image that is perceived,” the drug store manager said.

“I see. How do you think that image was developed?” the interviewer asked.

“Go look in the jails,” the drug store manager, replied, laughing.

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