Rahm spins as Chicago reels from population flight
Middle class families are unwilling to live in a city where there aren’t enough jobs and the cost of living is too high.
Chicago might be bleeding manufacturing jobs, but city pols are still world-class when it comes to manufacturing a fake reality.
So it was last week when Mayor Rahm Emanuel attempted to spin the reality that Chicago is shrinking. Emanuel played make-believe by claiming that Chicago is a leading destination city.
Here’s the reality: the United States Census Bureau reported that Chicago shrank by more than any other city in the United States from 2015 to 2016, during which time Chicago was the only major American city to shrink.
Here’s the make-believe: Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a press release in response to the Census data stating that Chicago had a large number of one-way arrivals of U-Haul trucks. Chicago took in the second most one-way moves in America, in fact.
The problem with Emanuel’s spin is that he didn’t count the number of one-way moves out of Chicago.
Rahm is like a basketball coach bragging that his offense scored 90 points while ignoring the fact that his defense gave up 120.
There are tens of thousands more people moving out of Chicago than moving in, which is precisely why the city is shrinking.
Chicago is like every other major city in that it has more births than deaths, and it gains people from international immigration. These gains, however, are offset by the fact that the city loses so many people to other parts of the country. That’s why the total population declines.
The problem isn’t confined to the city, either. The rest of Cook County had a larger population decline than the City of Chicago. And the entire State of Illinois has been shrinking for three years in a row.
The problem is that middle class families are unwilling to live in a city where there aren’t enough jobs and the cost of living is too high.
Out-migration is especially rapid from Chicago’s black neighborhoods. Failing schools, rising violence and crippling joblessness force middle class black families to leave. Those who stay often have lesser means and their neighborhoods are impoverished by middle class flight.
This explanation is a bit longer and certainly less convenient than the fake reality Emanuel manufactures via press release.
To be fair, parts of the city are working. The tech scene is rising, as are new skyscrapers in the city center. Corporate headquarters are bringing in high pay for highly educated workers.
But much of the city is unsustainable for middle class and low-skilled workers. Highly educated people are succeeding while blue-collar workers languish in joblessness. It’s a city that works for the high end, while opportunities shrink for the middle class.
How often do you see jobs announcements for new manufacturing and transportation jobs in blue-collar areas of the city? Far too few companies are willing to invest in production in Chicago.
It doesn’t have to be this way, and the fact of the matter is that state and city policies have made it this way. While northwest Indiana consistently welcomes blue-collar jobs investments, Chicago consistently drives such jobs away.
Chicago’s rising minimum wage drives starter jobs over to Indiana. Those starter jobs eventually become middle class jobs as workers gain more skills.
Workers’ compensation costs and crippling property taxes make it a no-brainer to put the next production facility in Hammond or Merrillville instead of Chicago.
If Chicago wants to be a city that works for everyone, it needs to act that way. That means cutting the red tape for entrepreneurs, reforming policies that drive away blue-collar jobs, and letting kids out of failing schools.
But until Emanuel gets the city’s finances in order, he’s going to be stuck manufacturing a fake reality instead of allowing for blue-collar job opportunities.