Second City or dead last? Half a population without a job

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What if one out of every two adults you knew didn’t work?

For some communities in Chicago, that’s not just a hypothetical situation.

As we finish our series on racial disparities in our city, compared with the 10 largest cities in the country, take a look at the number of people not working in Chicago by race.

We took a look at data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, comparing the 10 largest cities in the country and seeing how Chicago stacks up. This week, we’ve found that African Americans in Chicago are unemployed at a rate of 21.4 percent–highest among any racial or ethnic groups in big cities in the nation. Our minority poverty rate, both for African Americans and Latinos, is extremely high. When we look at education, we see that a greater percentage of the white population has a master’s degree than the black population has associates degrees. And perhaps most shocking, African Americans make about 45 cents on every dollar white people make in our city.

For our final post in the series, we’ll look at who’s not going to work in Chicago’s black and Latino communities. We’re not just looking at who’s standing in the unemployment line but rather a larger group of people–everyone over the age of 16 and not in the labor force. That includes people with disabilities, stay-at-home parents, people who are unable to work, people who have given up looking for work, etc.

Among African Americans in Chicago, 56 percent of the population is out of the labor force. That means that 1 in 2 people do not go to work. They don’t get benefits or vacation pay. No resume building. Some may want to work, and some may choose not to, but more than half are not working. That’s the highest percentage among any group in the 10 largest cities in the country.

Among Latinos, the statistic isn’t quite as high but still astounding–40 percent, or 2 in 5 people, out of the labor force. Compared to the other large cities, we’re tied with Dallas for number five.

When I think about the extreme racial disparities seen in this week’s statistics, I have one question: What are we doing wrong?

It’s not that other big cities don’t have problems. None of the cities has a perfect record. But our city is pretty seriously behind.

After spending a week thinking it over, what are your thoughts? How did Chicago get this way, and more importantly, how do we fix it?

Photo credit: Clementine Gallot

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  • Part of the problem is ex-offenders.They need to build up a good work record to secure permanent employment.This is true even if they have extensive education or training.This is proof they can do a job well.Churches and community organizations could help with this by creating day labor sites or temporary agencies.Ex-offenders could volunteer at charitable organizations.They could also use existing day labor sites and temporary agencies.The end game is to build a paper trail to make getting future employment easier.

  • In reply to JamesReyes:

    Good points, James. But I also think the Chicago police and courts need to stop creating so many "ex-offenders" and "ex-arrestees" with their disproportionate busts of minority youth. We need to shrink the size of that monstrous jail (the county's most bloated dept and the one nobody dares cut) where too many folks are confined just because they don't have the money for bail. And we need expungement or at least sealing of criminal records in most cases, so we don't have so many people iced out of the job market. Then the hardworking churches and community groups would have less of a mountain to climb.

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