Chicago's downtown-area jobs are growing but not for some residents - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Chicago's downtown-area jobs are growing but not for some residents

Robert R Gigliotti

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A Metropolitan Planning Council analysis of jobs data from 2010 to 2015 shows that some communities on the city’s south and west sides have largely been bystanders to the job growth occurring in the city’s core in recent years.

The total number of jobs located in and around downtown—specifically, the Loop, the Near North Side and the Near West Side community areas—increased by 10 percent during that span, according to MPC’s analysis. But the number of central jobs held by residents of several communities, particularly majority-black communities, actually decreased from 2010 to 2015, the most recent year for which data were available linking the locations of jobs to the neighborhoods where workers live.

Total jobs located in those three job-rich, downtown-area communities grew by 65,000 during that five-year span from about 650,000 to about 715,000. But the number of those jobs held by residents of the city’s majority-black communities actually fell, collectively, by nearly 1,500 from about 76,900 (11.9 percent) to about 75,400 (10.6 percent), the analysis shows.

When comparing community areas grouped by their racial or ethnic majorities, Chicago’s majority-black communities were the only ones to experience a decline in their total number of downtown-area jobs. The sharpest growth from 2010 to 2015 was in majority-white communities whose residents saw a collective increase of about 28,000 (increasing from 24.4 percent to 26.2 percent) downtown-area jobs.

Still, it should be noted that the number of African Americans with downtown-area jobs did increase from 2010 to 2015, according to MPC's analysis. The number of African Americans with downtown-area jobs increased from roughly 139,000 to about 142,000 during that span--about a 2 percent increase. However, the growth for whites, Asians and Latinos far exceeded that level growing by 12 percent, 7 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

It’s not exactly clear why the residents of some majority-black communities are losing out on downtown-area jobs. The numbers might reflect that downtown-area workers, including many African Americans, simply choose to live in other communities. The data might also reflect challenges in connecting the residents of some communities to employment opportunities in the city's core. In either case, the decline of downtown-area workers living in some south and west side communities perhaps represents a missed opportunity to provide them with a desperately needed economic boost.

The Loop, the Near North Side and the Near West Side community areas have become instrumental to the economic vitality of Chicago, and the people who hold those jobs are key drivers of the local economy. Due to the stability and earning potential of their jobs, many downtown-area workers can be steady contributors to the city’s tax base, anchors for neighborhood housing and consumers for local businesses.

The Loop is the heart of Chicago’s labor market with close to 410,000 jobs in 2015.

The Near North Side, which stretches north of the Loop to North Avenue and lies east of the north branch of the Chicago River, includes the posh Magnificent Mile, the Gold Coast, the Merchandise Mart and River North district and is second only to the Loop with 175,000 jobs in 2015.

The Near West Side, which lies west of the Chicago River between Kinzie and 16th streets and stretches just past Western Avenue, rounds out the city’s three most job-rich areas with nearly 130,000 jobs in 2015. One of the fastest-growing communities for jobs, the Near West Side includes the Kinzie Industrial Corridor, Fulton Market, Illinois Medical District, the United Center, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In 2015, more than half of the 1.3 million jobs in the city were in these three downtown-area communities, per MPC’s analysis. Furthermore, job growth in those three community areas from 2010 to 2015 (10 percent) was nearly three times higher than it was for the rest of the city (3.7 percent).

What accounts for the decline in downtown-area jobs held by residents of the South and West Sides? While majority-black communities in Chicago have collectively lost population in recent years, the total number of working residents increased in those communities from 2010 to 2015, according to MPC’s analysis.

If not population loss, part of the decline could be due to a relative mismatch between the leading job sectors for residents of the city’s majority-black communities and the fastest-growing job sectors in and around downtown. In 2010, almost 20 percent of working residents in the city’s majority-black communities held jobs in the healthcare and social assistance sector, according to MPC’s analysis. Close to another 13 percent worked in the educational services sector. Less than 4 percent of residents in those communities worked in the professional, scientific and technical services industry.

However, from 2010 to 2015 among downtown-area jobs, MPC’s analysis shows that the healthcare and social assistance and educational services industries suffered the greatest net losses of jobs, while the professional, scientific and technical services industry witnessed the greatest volume of job growth.

Not all majority-black communities lost ground in the downtown-area job market from 2010 to 2015. Of 28 majority-black communities in the city, 16 experienced a decline. Among the 12 experiencing growth in downtown-area workers, the south side communities of Douglas, Grand Boulevard and Oakland witnessed the highest net gains with modest increases of 315, 300 and 185 jobs, respectively.

Those communities are also experiencing growth in other ways. As MPC noted in an earlier post, Douglas has witnessed the most dramatic growth in median home value over the past decade among all community areas in the city. Oakland witnessed notable growth in median household income.

There are efforts to make direct connections between south and west side residents and global employers located downtown. MPC recently highlighted one of them, a program linking hundreds of students from Chicago City Colleges with Aon through an apprenticeship program.

City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado recently announced plans to expand apprenticeships and internships to connect as many as 4,000 City Colleges students with major employers. In addition to Aon, Chicago City Colleges also has a partnership with Accenture, Allstate and other employers.

“It’s a launching pad for our students to ensure that every child in our city looks to downtown and says ‘I can and will be a part of this,’ ” Salgado said of Aon’s apprenticeship program in a video for the Metropolitan Planning Council’s “Our Equitable Future: A Roadmap for the Chicago Region.”

The Roadmap, which MPC released in May, offers two dozen recommendations to address racial inequality across the Chicago region. It includes ideas to boost inclusive job growth to reverse the declining numbers of south and west side residents working in and around downtown.

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