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Employment in downtown Chicago drops for residents from majority-black communities

A view of the downtown Chicago skyline from North Ave beach. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Downtown Chicago has experienced significant job growth since 2010, but a new analysis shows the number of residents from majority-black Chicago communities who work in the city center has decreased.

The new analysis, produced by the Metropolitan Planning Council, found that the Loop, the Near North Side and the Near West Side added 65,000 new jobs between the start of 2010 and the end of 2015, with the number of jobs in those three areas totaling 715,000 as of 2015.

Yet the number of those jobs held by residents who live in majority-black communities on the South and West sides dropped. During the five-year period, the number of employees working downtown who were living in those communities shrunk by nearly 1,500.

Residents of these communities made up only 10.6 percent of the workforce downtown at the end of 2015, the analysis also showed.

“Chicago is having its highest peak in jobs in decades, and it was only half a century ago where we were losing jobs to the suburban areas,” said Chicago Urban League Director of Workforce Development Andrew Wells, who oversees efforts to raise African-American employment and income levels in Chicago. “So the jobs are here, but we have to make sure everyone has equal access to those opportunities.”

Alden Loury, director of research and evaluation for the Metropolitan Planning Council, pointed out that — while most majority-black communities experienced a decrease in the number of residents working downtown — three managed to have more residents working there between 2010 and 2015. Those communities are Oakland, Douglas and Grand Boulevard.


“While we highlight the collective loss of downtown-area jobs among residents in majority-black communities, there are a number of majority-black communities where the numbers are growing, and these are communities that — perhaps as a result of that connection to downtown-area work — are thriving,” Loury said.

“There is also a question about folks who are able to find work downtown and where they choose to live,” Loury said. “There are communities that many folks, whether they work downtown or otherwise, decide that some areas are purely off limits. There’s a chance that those communities can really suffer.”

In another report produced earlier this year, the Metropolitan Planning Council set a series of recommendations that could help solve issues of inequity facing the city. One recommendation called for a coordinated effort from city government, the private sector, philanthropists, community organizers and individuals to track how well Chicago is performing in equitable job growth.

“We can really embrace that recommendation as it relates to the vitality that we are seeing in and around downtown,” Loury said. “This analysis is an example of such an examination. Let’s really take stock of how we’re growing, where we’re growing, what sectors and which employers are growing.”

Loury hopes people will come away from this analysis and celebrate the fact downtown is doing great, but also recognize more needs to be done to make sure growth benefits the city as a whole.

“Sometimes when these reports are released there is almost a visceral reaction and it’s taken as bad news or a critique, but that’s not the intention at all,” Loury said. “We have this golden goose with downtown, and isn’t it a missed opportunity if these communities that are in desperate need of assistance aren’t participating in that growth?”

A spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that jobs in the central business district aren’t the only jobs that count, and that the mayor has worked to improve employment opportunities citywide.

“While some neighborhoods may have fewer people with jobs downtown, this new report shows that there are more people working in those same neighborhoods – they’re just working at jobs outside of downtown,” Emanuel spokesman Grant Klinzman said.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides. Tanveer Ali is a Sun-Times Digital Media Specialist.