The changing nature of poverty in the Chicago region between 1980 and 2010

Building off a post two days ago about comparing maps of urban poverty in 1980 and 2010, here is a closer look at how poverty has changed in the Chicago region over the same time period:

The shift is really quite dramatic, in broad terms:

Between 2000 and 2007/11, Cook County’s poverty rate moved from 13.5 percent to 15.8 percent; at the beginning of the decade, its poverty rate was highest in the region, but by 2007/11 it had been surpassed by DeKalb County and Lake County, Indiana, where the rates jumped from 11.4 to 15.9 percent and 12.2 to 16.6 percent, respectively.

Chicago city’s share of its CBSA’s population below poverty declined from a stunning 60 percent of the total to 48 percent of the total between 2000 and 2007/11.

It highlights something important: the decrease in Chicago’s population over the past few decades has gotten a lot of attention, but not the more recent decrease in population in the surrounding cities:

Chicago’s suburban poverty growth stems partly from the hollowing out of older inner suburbs noted by Lucy and Phillips (2003), Hanlon (2010), and others, in which who have more resources move away and are not replaced by others, leaving poor and near-poor households behind. Although the metropolitan area gained population in the 2000s, 122 of the Chicago region’s municipalities lost population. Among these declining cities, the average increase in poverty was 4.2 percentage points, compared with an average poverty growth of 3.1 percentage points in the growing cities.

Indeed, the best known and most severe poverty rate increases in Chicago occurred in a series of suburbs south of Chicago that lost population, including Harvey, Chicago Heights, and Calumet City. This zone of spiraling poverty—increases of 8 to 12 percentage points—amid population loss extends into northwest Indiana. The poverty rate in Gary and East Chicago exceed 30 percent citywide; Hammond’s poverty rate increased from 14 to 22 percent over the decade. Among these cities, only Hammond had a majority-white non-Hispanic population in 2000, and both Gary and Harvey were at least 80 percent black.

This is part of a bigger trend in the United States: poverty has spread to the suburbs, particularly to inner-ring suburbs adjacent to big cities that now face more inner-city issues. This not only upsets traditional views of suburbs as home to the wealthy but also raises a whole set of questions about how existing residents will respond and what social services can be provided. Both of these questions are ones that more and more American communities will face and it is unclear what the outcome will be.

Thinking specifically of the Chicago area poverty data, this is interesting to reconcile with the animosity others in the suburbs or elsewhere in Illinois have for the problems of Chicago. These maps show that issues like race or social class or gangs are not just big-city issues, no matter how much non city dwellers might wish to blame the city.

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