Flickr user Beyond DC (CC)
In this series, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) will explore where Chicago’s middle class lives, along with mapping the middle class experience by race and how it’s changed over time for both the city and the region.
So, so much ado about the middle class. Has there ever been a group of people more poked, prodded and analyzed? Over the years, the Pew Research Centers have perhaps been the most prolific on the topic, and just this past week announced a new study on America’s shrinking middle class, noting that the middle class lost ground in nearly nine out of 10 metropolitan areas. The Chicago Tribune then analyzed those findings for the Chicago metro.
Is there any more to say on this oft-reported topic? Well, yes. We found that comparing the Chicago experience across income alone is not apples to apples. Let’s take the ever-popular middle class to start:
Benton Dosky for Metropolitan Planning Council
You can see from the map that there are clear patterns of census tracts with majority African American or Latino middle class populations, mainly on the South and West sides. Among the collective total of residents living in middle class median census tracts, 37 percent are white, 34 percent are Latino, 21 percent are African Americans and 6 percent are Asian. In one sense, it’s striking that more than 60 percent of residents in Chicago’s middle class median census tracts are people of color. Consider next, though, how that middle class experience plays out differently based on race.
The African American and Latino middle class census tracts are largely homogenous, while whites in middle class tracts enjoy a more diverse experience. With the exception of pockets on the Southwest Side and Hyde Park, the white middle class is essentially a North Side experience.
Does it seem that I’m contradicting myself by saying that the white middle class enjoys more diversity, while also saying that the North Side is majority white? Well, both are true. In segregated Chicago, "more diverse" is highly relative.
A recent New York Times/Kaiser Family Foundation poll of Chicagoans found high levels of satisfaction among white North Siders: “Fewer than one-fifth of residents there say they feel unsafe in their neighborhood, and 64 percent of North Side whites say their area is a good or excellent place to raise children.” The North Side middle class neighborhoods and their majority white population allow for—and perpetuate—a very different experience of life in Chicago than their counterparts by income in other parts of the city.
To learn more about Chicago's middle class, read the other posts in the series.
MPC Research Assistant Benton Dosky contributed to this post.