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Jan. 19, 2012 — part 2 of 3 parts. Click here for part 1 and part 3 

By Ed Zotti

Last week's column closed on a depressing note, so I wanted to start this week's installment on a slightly more optimistic one. Below is a series of maps showing —  I apologize for the data-geekiness of this, but there's no way to avoid it — median household income in Chicago as a percentage of the Cook County median from 1980 to 2009. Red means below average income, blue means above. First 1980: 

We see here a pattern typical of many older U.S. cities at the time, with relatively prosperous neighborhoods on the edge of town surrounding an impoverished inner city.  The one difference from, say, Cleveland is the affluent Gold Coast/Lincoln Park community north of downtown — the seed for much of what was to come, but then just a small part of the city. 

Here's the city ten years later. The gentrified north lakefront district has gotten noticeably wealthier and more extensive. Ominously, however, poverty has deepened on the south and west sides, while middle-class communities on the far south side have begun to decline.


In 2000 the pattern seemed to alter. The city's population had grown by 112,000 during the 1990s, reversing a 40-year downward trend. The revitalized portion of the north side continued to expand, and poverty on the south and west sides, indicated by dark red, appreciably diminished. Middle-class enclaves on the far south and far southwest sides, though, continued to decline.

The picture in 2009. Compare it with 1980 — it's no exaggeration to say the city was transformed over this three-decade period. The affluent lakefront area now stretches from Lawrence (48ooN) to 26th Street, more than eight miles, and as far west as Kedzie (3200W). 

But not all parts of town prospered. In a reversal of the longstanding trend, the inner-city portion of the west side became wealthier, while the outlying part got poorer. The once solidly middle-class communities on the far south side have all but disappeared.

To put it bluntly, the two halves of the city over the past 30 years have gone in opposite directions. A look at the city's changing racial and ethnic makeup makes it evident why this has occurred. We've already seen what happened in the black community; now let's look at other groups.  

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First, white people (white is understood to mean non-Hispanic whites). The maps show an interesting change between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. In both cases, neighborhoods on the northwest, southwest, and southeast sides lost whites, while downtown and north side areas gained them. In the decade concluding in 2010, however, whites increased in a much wider swath of the city, from the northern city limits down to 67th Street.

As in past decades, whites in the city declined in the 2010 census. However, the statistics showed an interesting trend:


Year Population Change
1980 1,299,577


1990 1,056,048 –243,529
2000 907,166 –148,882
2010 854,717 –52,499

What this shows is that the rate of white flight from Chicago has dwindled at a remarkably steady pace over the past 30 years. If the trend continues, by 2020 the city's non-Hispanic white population will increase, perhaps by as much as 35,000 to 40,000.

Asians increased a modest 20,000, mostly concentrated in the central part of the city. But it was Hispanics who showed the most interesting pattern:


Hispanics were the major driver behind the city's population increase in the 1990s, moving in large numbers into the northwest, southwest, and southeast sides. That trend continued in the following decade, but the numbers were significantly reduced. Meanwhile, Hispanics were moving out of neighborhoods where they were long established, such as Little Village on the southwest side and Humboldt Park, Logan Square, and Lincoln Square on the northwest and north sides. No doubt that was partly due to gentrification, but the larger trend was that in the city overall Hispanics had increased just 3 percent by 2010, compared to 24 percent for all of Cook County. Conclusion: as with previous waves of immigrants, Hispanics were now moving to the suburbs. 

What does all tell us about where Chicago is headed? On the bright side, the pace of revitalization shows no signs of slackening; on the contrary, it's proceeded at a dependable rate for at least 30 years. White flight has dwindled and may soon reverse. That said, the number of whites won't increase dramatically, Asian population growth is likewise modest in absolute terms, and the great wave of Hispanic immigration is coming to an end. Meanwhile, conditions on the south side have deteriorated. Many black neighborhoods in Chicago lack such basic amenities as grocery stores — unless the situation miraculously improves, the exodus of black people from the city will probably continue. Taking all that into account, we're obliged to conclude that the city's population in the current decade is likelier to go down than up.

Nonetheless, there have been interesting developments. A good barometer of change is home prices, which historically have tended to rise in advance of household income. In the following maps, blue indicates neighborhoods where household income is above the county median, while red, orange, and yellow denote areas where income is below the median but home values are above:

You see the trend. While home value isn't an infallible guide, neighborhoods with significantly above-median home values in one census often have above-median household income in the next. Even when they don't, rising home values generally give a fair indication of which parts of town are on the way up. 

With that in mind, it's interesting to look at the 2009 map. We may safely surmise that revitalization will continue to push north and northwest, as it has for the past 30 years. But clearly it's also extending west, southwest, and south. Home values are rising in places like Garfield Park, Bridgeport, and a sizable area on the south lakefront I'll call Greater Bronzeville. What that may presage is an issue I'll examine in the concluding article in this series.

(Click here for part three.)

— Ed Zotti