Chicago youth unemployment hits African Americans hardest, driving population declines

From 1950 to 2017, Chicago lost 904,500 or 25% of its residents. Experts link this population drop to the decline in job opportunities. (Alison Saldanha/MEDILL)

By Alison Saldanha
Medill Reports

More African Americans are out of school and out of work than among any other racial group in Chicago, according to a new report released recently by the Great Cities Institute of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Professor Teresa Cordova, director of the Great Cities Institute, linked this disparity to the city’s declining population trend, especially among Black residents. As of 2017, Chicago’s population has  dropped by 904,500 to 2.7 million, or 25% since 1950. Some Black majority neighborhoods have lost more than 50% of their population in less than four decades.

Between 2010 and 2017 alone, Illinois’ lost 99,682 residents — in absolute numbers and that’s more than any other U.S. state, according to an earlier Great Cities Institute report from July.

Cook County, home to Chicago, registered the highest decline.  Here, 18,673 residents have moved out since 2010.

If the trend continues, demographers predict Houston could overtake Chicago’s place as the third largest city in the country and Chicago, once the second largest U.S. city behind New York, would drop to fourth place.

A decline in the manufacturing and related industrial jobs since the 1980s, coupled with inadequate affordable housing and quality schools are driving Chicagoans out, Cordova said.

“People will migrate based on the availability of or lack of employment opportunities,” Cordova said. “One of the ways to keep people from leaving is increasing job opportunities especially for young Black people.”

In the age group of 16-19 years, about 11.5% of African Americans are neither in school nor working compared to about 5.3% of whites and 7.9% of Latinos, according to the report. The numbers are  based on the latest census data.

This demographic disparity rises as people grow older. In the age group of 20-24 years, 38% of African Americans are neither employed nor in school.

Overall, 8.4% of Chicagoans aged 16-19 years and 20.4% aged 20-24 are neither in school nor employed.

In 1980, when Chicago’s Black population reached its peak, there were 29 majority Black neighborhoods in town. This has dropped down to 26.

Three neighborhoods specifically — Englewood, West Englewood and Grand Boulevard — have each lost more than 30,000 Black residents.

“There were a lot of white and Latinos working in factories as well. But Blacks were concentrated in certain neighborhoods so when they left, it left more of an impact on the neighborhoods themselves and the city,” Cordova said.

To stem the tide, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign for city redevelopment promises to bring investment to areas beyond  downtown. She just launched the INVEST South/West initiative.
commiting $750 million in public funds to develop 10 historically disinvested African American neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West sides. The initiative is meant to attract additional private investments.

“Chicago is the only global city in America whose population is declining, and do you know why? Because African American families are leaving this city by the thousands,” said Chicago planning department chief Maurice Cox at the recent kickoff event in Austin for the INVEST South/West initiative. “This is a troubling trend.”

“I would argue for as much population and thousands that have left there are hundreds of thousands who have stayed and those are the folks we are going to build this strategy for,” Cox said.

But Ralph Edwards, 44, who works with high-risk youth on Chicago’s North Side, said the struggle for jobs for young African Americans is a citywide challenge.

“Many businesses on the North Side have been here for decades. Naturally, they have built relationships with other neighbors and business owners so when they are hiring, they lean towards who they are familiar with,” Edwards said.

“If you don’t have a Black face in the market, the chances of Black people getting a job in that neighborhood are cut down,” he said.

Photo at top: As of 2017, Chicago’s population has dropped by 904,500 25% to 2.7 million since 1950. A decline in industry and manufacturing jobs since the 1980s coupled with inadequate affordable housing and quality schools are driving out residents, especially African Americans, say experts at the Great Cities Institute of the University of Illinois at Chicago. (Alison Saldanha/MEDILL) Graphics produced by Alison Saldanha.