Our equitable future: delivering on the promise of a city of neighborhoods - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Our equitable future: delivering on the promise of a city of neighborhoods

Chicago region shows some signs of improved racial integration. However, many Black families are leaving or being displaced from neighborhoods with proximity to high wage jobs. More specific strategies are needed to prevent displacement and ensure economic mobility for all populations.

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While Chicago’s story of recent population loss continues to center on Black population loss, new analysis shows the story of our city’s changing demographics is more nuanced. Yes, Chicago lost an estimated 228,968 African American residents between 2000 and 2017. And the region’s net population loss since 2000 has been driven entirely by the Cook County—every other county in the region has gained African American residents since 2000.

The population loss story is much more varied across Chicago neighborhoods, and across the region. When census data is coupled with other sources, including Opportunity Insights, a Harvard-based research and policy institute that’s focused on economic mobility, Chicago’s oft-reported story of population loss becomes more complicated. To better understand why people are staying or leaving, and whether the Chicago region is delivering on the promise of improving one’s economic well-being, particularly for families of color, MPC examined data to better understand what can be done to ensure equitable investment in long disinvested neighborhoods.

Our analysis shows that racial integration is accelerating in some parts of the region, including Chicago neighborhoods. However, much of the net Black population loss is happening in areas that provide pathways to economic mobility, raising concerns about displacement.

Opportunity Insights data on lifetime economic mobility was combined with other sources to learn more about the different pathways to financial progress in the region. Two key themes emerged related to Black population loss.

  1. Although the city, and the region has lost Black population, it has not happened everywhere. In the seven county region, 901 Census tracts gained Black population, compared to 795 that lost Black population. African American Americans have moved to more diverse areas with less concentrated poverty. Across the region, census tracts that have gained Black population since 2000 were associated with the following trends:¹ 
  • Lower shares of poor families
  • Lower shares of single parent households
  • Higher percentages of white, foreign-born, and Latino families

In Chicago, these trends were also largely true, but with the major caveat that the City lost many more Black residents than it gained (491 Census tracts lost Black population while 235 gained, for a net loss of 255,930 African Americans). Chicago is responsible for the region’s loss of Black population. In the tracts that did gain Black population (illustrated on the map below in blue), the following trends also coincided:

  • Lower shares of non-white populations
  • Median household income increased since 2000

Although not all these census tracts were characterized by high historical economic mobility, particularly for Black households, the data show some encouraging signs that Black households are accessing more racially and economically diverse areas. However, it remains to be seen whether Black households will experience economic mobility after moving into these more diverse places.

MPC: Data from PolicyMap, 2000 Census; 2017 ACS 5-year

  1. For census tracts in the City of Chicago that did lose Black population, there are indications that this loss is occurring most in areas that show signs of gentrification and displacement. What do these places have in common?²
  • Higher median incomes
  • Closer proximity to jobs and high paying jobs
  • Greater share of foreign-born populations and Latinos
  • Higher percentages of college educated population
  • Greater percentages of home purchase loans made to whites

And where is Black population more stable? Almost no neighborhood is stable, but there was comparatively less population loss in areas with:

  • Greater shares of Black and non-white population
  • Greater shares of poor and single parent families
  • Higher shares of affordable rentals

Although these tracts—compared with those described above as losing the most Black population—would seem to be more “disadvantaged,” they are also areas that have provided a supportive environment for economic mobility for Black families. This includes:

  • Higher shares of Black residents in the top 20 percent of Black income earners
  • More Black residents in the top 20 percent of Black income earners raised by parents whose earnings were in the bottom quarter of earners (i.e. experienced economic mobility)
  • More people who live in the same census tract of birth, and raised by middle income parents
  • Greater number and percent of home purchase loans made to Black residents.

In other words, such neighborhoods are much more than a story about disadvantage. Many Black families are leaving, or perhaps are being displaced from neighborhoods that have potential to provide economic opportunity through proximity to jobs with high wages. At the same time, the areas that have historically provided a stable, Black middle income existence and economic mobility, albeit in areas that are less racially integrated, are under pressure by larger economic forces. If these family-rooted communities are to serve as a buffer against greater population loss, they must receive a more equitable share of public and private investment.

Harvard economist and Opportunity Insights Director Raj Chetty and Policy Director David Williams will keynote MPC’s September 19th annual luncheon. Opportunity Insights looked at decades-long data trends to identify policy solutions to increase economic mobility. Chetty’s long-term study of mobility in Seattle may offer policy pathways for Chicago families seeking to access different neighborhoods.

MPC is continuing to conduct more research into neighborhood change throughout Chicago and the region. More work is necessary to uncover the features of neighborhoods that make them sustainable and attractive places for everyone to live, and to zero in on public policy incentives with the most equitable impacts.

recent study by the Urban Institute showed that predominantly white neighborhoods receive nearly five times the amount of investment as majority Black neighborhoods, and roughly two and a half times the amount as majority Latino neighborhoods. This study, and the MPC analysis presented here, echoes what many Chicago residents of color have long known to be true: structural inequities create disparities in neighborhood opportunity. Yet neighborhoods hold much promise to provide opportunities for a healthier and vibrant life for everyone. MPC is committed to working with communities to refine and implement a “Roadmap to Our Equitable Future” so that “good neighborhoods” are a reality for all.

¹ Data on economic mobility from Opportunity Insights. Other sources include 2000 Census, 2017 ACS, and HMDA. All correlations significant p<.05

² Data on economic mobility from Opportunity Insights. Affordable rental estimates from PolicyMap. Other sources include 2000 Census, 2017 ACS, and HMDA. All correlations significant p<.05


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