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EDITORIAL: Chicago has a problem — many millennials want to leave

A view of part of the Chicago skyline and Wicker Park seen from the rooftop of the Robey Hotel in Wicker Park on July 2, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

A view of part of the Chicago skyline in July 2018. A new study finds more than a third of young Chicagoans want to leave town. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

A stunning percentage of young Chicagoans want to get the heck out of town, and that news should be front-and-center this election season.

A new study by the University of Chicago raises the already-high stakes for Election Day, which is Feb. 26.

Chicagoans already knew that our city has a laundry list of pressing problems: crime and violence, racial bias in policing, a lack of jobs, neighborhood disinvestment and more. What the voters now know is that if the next mayor and City Council don’t come up with creative solutions, millennials — the next generation of taxpayers and homeowners — are poised to pick up and leave.

EDITORIAL

Just listen to Kevin, a 22-year-old African-American man from Englewood, who told researchers, “I feel like if I go outside of Chicago, I will be able to find better opportunities than in Chicago. It’s kind of crazy, but I guess that’s how it is.”

The city can ill afford to lose eager young people like that, who just want a path to better themselves — and in the process, make the city better too. 

The U. of C.’s GenForward Project, an ongoing nationwide study of millennials, interviewed a diverse group of young Chicagoans, ages 18 to 29, from 10 neighborhoods for this latest study.

Overall, 36 percent said they want to leave the city, with the percentage highest among African-Americans. Crime, inequality, poor education and lack of economic opportunity were prime reasons.

Fixing all this is a tall order, no doubt.

We’re asking the same question GenForward founder Cathy Cohen posed in the Sun-Times: “Can the city re-imagine itself in a way that gives these young people a reason to stay?”

And, as she also said, “To think about the shape of the country or the city without centering their voices is a mistake.”

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