Second City or dead last? Chicago's sky-high minority poverty rate


Every city has poverty, right? Travel around the world, and it’d be difficult to find a city that doesn’t have a ghetto or at least a “wrong side of the tracks.”

They say that the poor are always with us, but they never mentioned how many there might be.

This week, as we look at the 10 largest cities in America, you might be surprised to find out just how many poor people Chicago has and who they are. Today, we’ll look at Chicago’s poverty rate compared to New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose to see how we stack up.

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Among the 10 largest cities in America, Chicago has the third highest poverty rate, with 21.6 percent of our residents living under the poverty level, according to 2009 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Only Philadelphia and Dallas–with 25 and 23 percent, respectively–beat us.

But when we take a look at poverty among African Americans, that’s where Chicago enters the spotlight. About one in three of all black people in Chicago, 32.2 percent, are living in poverty. That’s number one among America’s largest cities. Only Dallas comes close, with 30.5 percent.

In fact, Chicago’s African-American poverty rate is close to being the highest minority poverty rate in the nation. Only Latinos in Phoenix and Philadelphia have higher rates of poverty.

After looking at the sky-high poverty rate among black people in Chicago, I wondered which city had the starkest contrast–the biggest difference between how many white people and black people lived in poverty.

And there again, we rise to the top. There is a difference of 22.2 percent, with only 10 percent of white people in poverty.

So not only do we have the highest rate of poverty among African Americans, we also have the highest racial disparity between poverty rates of white and black people.

Looking at the stark racial divide in our poverty rates, it’s hard to believe that any real progress has been made from decades ago.

ChicagoNow blogger Brian Thomas wondered this morning if U.S. Rep. Danny Davis was living in the past–for chiding black Chicagoans for not voting for Carol Moseley Braun. Thomas said Davis needs to enter the 21st century.

And while it seems a bit passe to vote for a candidate based on the color of their skin, I wonder if it’s Chicago that needs to enter the 21st century, not just Davis. Because our poverty rates are extremely retro, and not in a good way.

Photo credit: elfon

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  • Of the 10 largest cities in America, only Philidelphia and Dallas have higher minority poverty rates? So I'm guessing Detroit has now fallen out of the top 10. It would be helpful to include the names of the otehr 7 cities in the article for context.

  • In reply to Elwood72:

    Hi Elwood - thanks for reading!

    The other 9 cities are listed in the third paragraph, but they are: New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose. If you like, we can post a spreadsheet so you can see the poverty rate by minority population for each city.

  • In reply to Elwood72:

    Sad, but true. There are people who want to change this, though.

    Author/humanitarian Greg Mortenson visited with students at Saint Xavier University on the south side, and suggested our new mayor visit them too...Watch this video:

  • We cannot really avoid this things to happen when in comes to poverty. However, whatever race we are in, black or white we should give them a hand in order for them to experience good life. I saw an article in about how particular people have able to help the poor ones. You cannot really stop poverty but one can able to help each individual.

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