Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Division Street: Chicago

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    NEWSLETTERS

    It’s an uncomfortable truth that the most liberal cities in America are also the cities with the most inequality: New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. -- and, of course, Chicago -- are home to both the tremendously wealthy and the penuriously poor, and the two usually come into contact only when the former serve the latter.

    The Atlantic Cities has divided Chicago workers into three categories: the creative class, the working class, and the service class. In a city that has lost its steel mills, its slaughterhouses, its candy factories and its television manufacturers, it should not be surprising that the workers -- who once made up the middle class -- have almost entirely disappeared. Instead, we have highly-paid lawyers, professors, doctors, software engineers and marketing experts -- and the people who park their cars, bus their tables and drive them around in taxis.
    The creative class is made up of “people who work in science and technology, business and management, arts, culture, media and entertainment, law, and healthcare professions. All told its ranks make up 35.1 percent of the metro's workers…[averaging] $75,033 per year in wages and salaries."
    The top neighborhoods for members of the creative class are Hyde Park, Lake View, Streeterville and Lincoln Park.
    Meanwhile, a few miles to the south and west:
    The service class entails low-wage, low-skill workers who work in routine service jobs such as food service and preparation, retail sales, and clerical and administrative positions. This is the largest class of workers in Chicago, making up 43.4 percent of the region's workers, and some of the fastest-growing job categories of all. Service workers in the metro average $30,946 in wages and salaries — 41 percent of the average of creative class workers. There are 491 tracts (23.2 percent of the city's total) where this class is more than half, 37 (1.75 percent) where it is more than two-thirds, and two tracts (0.09 percent) where it is more than three-quarters.

    In the city proper, the service class is settled at the periphery of creative class neighborhoods out to the city's outer rim. As the table below shows, nine of the 10 tracts with the highest percentage of service workers are in the city proper, and four of them are located in Englewood, a three-mile square neighborhood in the southwest that has a poverty rate of more than 40 percent, over twice the city's rate overall.
    No one should be more sensitive to America’s economic inequalities than President Obama. When he was elected to the state senate in 1996, Obama’s district included both Hyde Park and Englewood. (When it was redrawn in 2002, he swapped Englewood for the Gold Coast, so he could represent potential contributors to his Senate run.) But if you want to see the consequences of the so-called Great Divergence -- the upper and lower classes expanding, at the expense of the middle -- Chicago is a place to see them.

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