Second City or dead last? Income apartheid in Chicago


What can you buy for 45 cents? I can’t think of much. Maybe a pack of gum? Even that might be difficult.

But what can you buy with a dollar? Sure, a dollar’s not much, but there’s lots to be had. The entire dollar store is yours for the taking. Fast food? The dollar menu will help you out. Even Target offers a dollar section.

What’s the purpose of this little game of the Price is Right? Well, those two amounts of money represent the difference between the incomes of black and white Chicagoans. Black people living in Chicago make 45 cents for every dollar that a white person makes.

According to data from the 2009 American Community Survey, the average white person in Chicago makes an income of $63,625 a year. Not rich, for sure, but doing pretty well. The average black person is pulling in $28,725 a year, about 45 percent of what the average white person makes.

How are we compared to other big cities? Not so good. Only Dallas beats us on this statistic, with black folks making 43 cents on the dollar of white folks. Take a look at how the top 10 largest cities in America shake out when you look at the incomes.

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When the yearly statistics like this come out for men’s pay versus women’s pay, experts are usually quick to point out that it isn’t just direct discrimination. Women may have less education, choose less lucrative careers or opt to take time away from the workplace to raise children, all impacting their salary.

And maybe that’s true here as well. Poor educational choices, fewer jobs available in a community, health care disparities leading to disabilities – maybe it’s not just that Mr. Business owner chooses to pay his white clerk $20 an hour while his black clerks makes $9.

But, is the why as important as the what? No explanation quite makes up for that .55 cents missing from every dollar on the monthly paycheck.  

Photo credit: Brad Montgomery

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  • Thanks for this series!! Is it any wonder that Chicago's Black population went down 17% in just one decade? Some people have been straight-up deported (the former residents of CHA now marooned in the south suburbs, or shipped off to Kankakee or Danville). Some have been driven out by gentrification. And a whole lot, I reckon, have left in disgust. BTW I am amazed at the high income level of the "average white Chicagoan." How much of that has to do with good times, and how much with gentrification? I suspect a lot of white workers making less than $50K have moved out to someplace they can actually afford to live.

  • In reply to bettyrose:

    Good point, bettyrose. Thanks for reading.

    I didn't think about gentrification also driving up white salaries as more middle class white people can't afford to live in the city anymore.

    I am always struck by the "average" number because it makes me think of all the people who are making so much more than that!

  • In reply to bettyrose:

    "Now I ain't saying she's a gold digger..."

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