Jobs are the topic of the The Chicago Reporter’s latest issue. It’s an issue everyone’s thinking about, including Hal Baskin, a community leader and 16th ward aldermanic candidate from Englewood. The South Sider says jobs are the way to reduce crime in neighborhoods, increase safety at schools and improve the quality of life for neighborhood residents.
We mapped the number of jobs in Chicago by ward and found that the 16th ranks almost dead last. Baskin, a reformed gang member who now runs the P.E.A.C.E. Center, proposes one solution to bring jobs into Chicago: more Wal-Mart stores.
The first Chicago Wal-Mart opened in 2006 in Austin, after the mega retailer courted the support of politicians, community leaders and residents to bypass zoning restrictions that have previously kept the big box stores out of the city. Austin is by far Chicago’s biggest community area and Wal-Mart won people over promising jobs for the area plagued by high unemployment.
Baskin has been one of the retailer’s biggest supporters. “I’m not supporting big companies or unions,” he says of the living wage controversy that’s swirled around the discount store. “I’m supporting people in the neighborhood and they need jobs,” Baskin said.
With plans for more Wal-Marts in the future, Baskin is pushing for a store in the heart of Englewood, where 63rd Street and Halsted Street intersect. Like many Wal-Mart proponents, he laments the tax revenue lost when Chicago residents drive to the suburbs to shop at Wal-Mart. And he brightens up at the prospect of the hundreds of jobs that a Wal-Mart could bring if a local store were to open in Englewood.
Looking at the Reporter’s analysis (which is based on federal employment and U.S. Census data for the years 2002-2008) one might think they could predict the impact of a Wal-Mart on future job growth or loss in Baskin’s ward. But that may not be the case. Austin, home to the city’s sole Wal-Mart store, lost 2,704 jobs during that time period, a 14 percent drop. The number of Austin residents working also dropped 13 percent. The biggest job losses were in the lowest paying jobs earning $15,000 or less each year.
The Reporter analysis also focused on jobs on the block in Austin where the Wal-Mart is located. We tracked how many jobs the big box store brought to Chicago, who they hired, and how much economic relief the jobs provided. Austin residents are the biggest share of the Wal-Mart workforce, accounting for 18 percent of the store’s employees, and overall 60 percent of Wal-Mart employees live in Chicago. More than half of the people from Chicago working at Wal-Mart made less than $15,000 annually while only 2 percent of their employees made more than $40,000 a year.
For now, any new plans for an Englewood Wal-Mart appear on hold. After making inroads to the city by pledging to breathe life in jobs-starved communities, Wal-Mart went straight for the tony Lakeview and Lincoln Park neighborhoods with expansion plans.
Baskin isn’t discouraged. It’s going to take innovative ideas to bring jobs to the neighborhood, he says. “They’re not going to just fall from the sky.”
— By Samantha Winslow
— Contributing: Angela Caputo