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Neoliberal Chicago$

Larry Bennett, Roberta Garner, and Euan Hague

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780252040597

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252040597.001.0001

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Class and Race-Ethnicity in a Changing City

Class and Race-Ethnicity in a Changing City

A Historical Perspective on Inequalities

Chapter:
(p.17) Chapter 1 Class and Race-Ethnicity in a Changing City
Source:
Neoliberal Chicago
Author(s):

Roberta Garner

Black Hawk Hancock

Kenneth Fidel

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5406/illinois/9780252040597.003.0002

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter traces the dynamics of class and race-ethnicity in the Chicago metropolitan area, identifying persistent disparities and emergent features of stratification. The chapter begins with a focus on the impact of de-industrialization and economic restructuring on African Americans whose disadvantaged position in terms of employment and education in the 20th century was exacerbated rather than mitigated by the decline of the “industrial city.” Immigrants occupy a wide range of class-positions, depending on country of origin and their education and class background in these countries. A major emerging phenomenon is the rise of a new white-collar working class of diverse ethno-racial backgrounds that has a blurred boundary with the “creative class.” A brief critique of public discourse about class and race closes the chapter.

Keywords:   neoliberalism, Chicago, class, race-ethnicity, disparities, stratification, economic restructuring, immigrants, white-collar working class, creative class

This chapter traces the dynamics of race-ethnicity and class in the Chicago metropolitan area, with an emphasis on both change in recent decades and persistent disparities. The strong link between racial disparities and class inequality is our focal point, and we discuss why African Americans remained relatively disadvantaged during the economic, social, and political transition to a new class structure as Chicago changed from a declining industrial city to the revitalized “third city.”

In his book The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism (2010), Larry Bennett developed a model that is useful for organizing our discussion. Bennett proposes that Chicago moved through three stages in the twentieth century, passing from an ethnically divided industrial city in the early twentieth century into a difficult period as a racially divided Rust Belt city facing demise from the mid-twentieth century to the 1990s and finally emerging as a postindustrial global city. Bennett (2010, 8) describes what he terms the Third City as featuring “a revitalized urban core, which at present coexists uncomfortably with a belt of very poor to working-neighborhoods reaching west and south,” and as “home to a shifting population mix, including a very large segment drawn from Mexico; a smaller but significant immigrant stream from south and east Asia; a substantial population of middle-class professionals working in corporations, universities, (p.18) and other ‘creative class’ economic niches.” The transition from the declining Second City to the flourishing Third City was accomplished during the neoliberal era of the last decades of the twentieth century, powered by institutional structures, policies, and practices of neoliberalism as we have defined it. This transition paralleled similar transitions in many other cities (see, for example, Boudreau, Keil, and Young 2009 for an analysis of the process in Toronto). In this chapter we examine these emerging structures, policies, and practices and attempt to understand how many people in Chicago—especially African Americans—remained poor and in the marginalized parts of the working class.

The transition to the Third City was marked by globalization and the incorporation of immigrants into the new structure of occupations in a form that made the intertwining of class and ethnicity more complicated than in the industrial era. The occupations of the middle class changed during this transition, as did their household structure, as fewer lived in nuclear families. We conclude the chapter by looking at some of the many political and ideological features of neoliberalism that impact the dynamics of class and race-ethnicity, specifically the ebbing political engagement of disadvantaged communities, new cognitive maps of class and race-ethnicity that emphasize individual attainment, and a general thinning out of opportunities for public discussion of inequalities.

Racial Isolation and Persistent Disparities: New Structure, Old Inequality

Chicago is a city of persistent disparities. How is it possible that fifty years after the March on Washington, so many African Americans in Chicago remain racially isolated and economically disadvantaged? The data suggest that African Americans are disproportionately located in disadvantaged sections of the new working class, and consequently, disproportionately exposed to unemployment and low-wage work. Although the occupational and class structures have changed with the transition to the Third City, the situation of African Americans, on average, has not improved in the ways that were hoped for in the civil rights era.

Segregation and Racial Isolation

Chicago has long been known as one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States (although at times the index of dissimilarity—a measure of segregation—has been even higher for New York and Detroit).1 The decline in segregation since the 1960s has been minimal. In 1960, 69 percent of African Americans in Chicago lived in neighborhoods in which at least 95 percent of the residents were African Americans; in 2011, 63 percent of African Americans lived in neighborhoods in which at least 94 percent of the residents were African (p.19) Americans. Almost two-thirds of African Americans live in twenty-two of Chicago’s seventy-seven community areas, and of the total population of these areas, 95 percent is African American. In short, about two-thirds of Chicago’s African American residents live in racially isolated areas (Bogira 2013).

Economic Disadvantage

These overwhelmingly African American areas are not just racially segregated; they are also profoundly unequal in economic terms. In 1963, the March on Washington called for jobs and equality in employment (Jones 2013), as did the 1968 Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Report). Fifty years after the March on Washington, this promise remains unfulfilled both nationally and locally. In Chicago in 1968, the unemployment rate for African Americans was 7.8; for whites it was 2.3 percent. By 2012, the situation was considerably worse for both racial categories, and though the racial gap had decreased proportionally, the percentage gap had increased. The unemployment rate for whites was 8.1 percent, and it was 19.5 percent for African Americans. (The national percentages were 6.6 and 12.6, respectively). Poverty rates for both categories also increased in Chicago from 1960 to 2011, and over one-third of African Americans now live in poverty. For whites, the poverty rate increased from 7.4 percent to 10.9 percent; for African Americans, it increased from 29.7 percent to 34.1 percent (Bogira and Dumke 2013).

Median income figures tell the same story of little or no change in racial economic disparities. In Chicago in 1960, the median family income of African Americans was $4,800; for white families it was $7,700. In 2010, the median household income was $29,371 for African American households and $58,752 for white households (and $64,692 for non-Hispanic whites), reflecting an exacerbation rather than amelioration of the racial income gap (Bogira and Dumke 2013; U.S. Census Bureau 2011).

Income dispersion is also part of the story, and the national income distribution for African American households is more unequal than that of other major ethnoracial categories, although income inequality has increased in all of them (Macewan 2013; U.S. Census Bureau 2013). The data from the 2000 Census for Chicago (Bruch 2014) suggested that both in Chicago and nationally there is considerably greater income inequality among black households than among white households (the Gini ratios for income, a commonly used measure of inequality, are, respectively,.45 and.38). The growing disparities among African Americans are beginning to have a complicated impact on politics, opportunities, and lifestyles in Chicago, as sociologist Mary Pattillo (2007) charts in Black on the Block, her study of class relationships within a predominantly African American community poised on the verge of gentrification.

(p.20) Crime and “Hyper-Incarceration”

There is a concentration of violent crime in predominantly African American neighborhoods in Chicago. The community areas of Washington Park, Englewood, West Garfield Park, North Lawndale, and several other South and West Side areas persistently appear at the top of the violent crime rankings. Homicide “hot spots” are similarly concentrated. Although murder rates actually declined in Chicago from the early 1990s to the late 2000s, Daniel Hertz (2013) of the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy has found that they declined on the South and West Sides less than they did on the North Side. Murder rates actually increased in seven South and West Side police districts, a trend that widened the racial/geographic gap in the incidence of homicides.

Some of these disparities were already visible in the 1960s, but at present many predominantly African American neighborhoods are experiencing a spiraling of consequences due to intense policing, mass incarceration, and the challenges of “reintegrating” the formerly incarcerated. Using the phrases “incarceration regime” and “hyper-incarceration,” sociologist Robert Sampson points to an astonishing gap between the incarceration rates for white and black communities. For example, the highest incarceration rate in a predominantly black community area (West Garfield Park, where the rate is 4,226/100,000) is 42 times greater than the highest incarceration rate in any white community (103/100,000)! The new burden of incarceration and the problems of “reentry” that former inmates face exacerbate the older legacies of inequality in many African American neighborhoods.

Education

Individuals of color vastly predominate among the students of Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Currently, only 9 percent of the students are white. CPS students, by and large, are also very poor. Eighty-five percent of CPS students receive free or reduced-price lunches, which means that their families report less than 185 percent of poverty-level income. In contrast, a slight majority (52 percent) of Chicago families with children under 18 are low-income, as defined by the criteria for free or reduced-price lunches. Both white and middle-income parents continue to live in Chicago, but many send their children to parochial or other private schools. Those who cannot afford to do so often move to suburban school districts. Yet CPS policies of closing schools, firing teachers, and opening charter schools have resulted in whiter (and younger) teaching staffs.

Young African American men in 2007 had only a 39 percent chance of completing a diploma in the Chicago Public Schools. For Hispanic males the comparable figure was 51 percent. Drop-out rates were also high for African (p.21) American women and Latinas (Allensworth and Easton 2007). More recently the graduation rate has risen to 70 percent for African American men (and to higher levels for others), in part due to a program called Freshmen on Track that has been described as “a central-office mandate that teachers and principals do whatever it takes to make sure that no ninth-grader receives a failing grade in any subject” (Joravsky 2014, 9; see also Knowles 2014; and University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research 2014). The logic of this initiative turns on the high correlation between failure in the ninth grade and subsequent dropping out of school. Charges are also circulating that drop-outs are being recorded as “transfers out of the district” to mitigate the drop-out statistics.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has determined that closing “underperforming” and “underutilized” schools will solve the problem of unacceptable educational outcomes. Before the start of the 2013–2014 school year, CPS closed forty-seven elementary schools and one high school and slated two more elementary schools for closure within two years. Almost all of these schools were in predominantly African American neighborhoods. The CPS closed these schools and cut teaching jobs instead of viewing low enrollments as an opportunity to develop innovative programs with smaller class sizes and specialized services. In part this is a union-busting move, and some portion of the shuttered schools will reopen as charter schools with nonunion teachers.

The school closings of 2013 were met by community protests, and the issues that surfaced during these protests and debates revealed (once again) the siege-like conditions of the neighborhoods that were affected. In many instances parents and children are afraid to walk to nearby schools in hostile gang territory. The fears are real enough, and media accounts make visible living conditions that are unimaginable to viewers and readers living as nearby as Chicago’s North Side.

Health Indicators

Juliet Yonek and Romana Hasnain-Wynia’s noteworthy study for the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in collaboration with the Chicago Department of Public Health (2011) provides a comprehensive profile of health disparities and the geographical and racial-ethnic distribution of health issues and health resources in Chicago. Their findings reveal major disparities in the proportions of overweight African American and Latino high school students compared to whites, a very disproportionate rate of HIV diagnosis among blacks (who constituted 60 percent of individuals diagnosed in 2008), a motor vehicle accident death rate that was twice as high among blacks as among whites, and a breast cancer mortality rate that is three-fifths greater for black women than for white women. The last of these comparisons reflects a disturbing divergence since the early 1980s, when the rates were essentially (p.22) similar. Yonek and Hasnain-Wynia discuss the very marked differences in the distribution of health-related resources across the city, including bike paths, access to mammograms, HIV clinics, and food stores with healthy options. Recent media reports have likewise focused on the shortage of trauma centers on the South Side.

Foreclosures

The current home foreclosure rate is about three times as high in predominantly African American and Latino communities as it is in predominantly white areas. In terms of socioeconomic status, the rate is twice as high for families with incomes under $80,000 as for more affluent families. (These disparities are discussed in more detail in Chapter 9; see also Immergluck and Smith [2005] and Rugh and Massey [2010] for more about the role of racial segregation in foreclosures and the effects of sub-prime lending on neighborhoods.)

Concentrated Disadvantage

The information we have reviewed in the preceding pages underlines the cumulative disparities that divide white and African American Chicagoans and suggests that even middle-income African Americans have a more fragile hold on day-to-day well-being than whites do. In addition to this series of disparities, sociologist Robert Sampson (2012) draws attention to “concentrated disadvantage” in his analysis of community areas marked by unemployment, poverty, welfare dependency, family disruption, high infant mortality rates, low birth weight, homicide, and others forms of violence (and by the effects of mass incarceration). These indicators are strongly correlated with one another and are spatially clustered in a fraction of African American neighborhoods in which about 20 percent of the city’s population lives. Already in the 1960s, many of these areas had high rates of poverty, but mass incarceration and the challenges posed by reintegration of the formerly incarcerated represent new obstacles to efforts to improve the quality of neighborhood life.

A Historical Perspective on Racial Segregation and Inequality

To understand the disparities we see in the present we need to trace the historical process in which the marked segregation and inequality of the industrial First City were exacerbated during the deindustrialization of the Second City and then were not relieved by the neoliberal restructuring that yielded the Third City. In effect, the economic and social aspirations of the civil rights movement (p.23) in the 1960s were curtailed by the linked processes of deindustrialization, economic restructuring, and globalization as they impacted racially isolated African American communities in Chicago.

The neoliberal era has meant privatization, deregulation, and the shrinkage of the welfare state. These forces further unleashed a process of globalization characterized by financial flows across borders, the offshoring of jobs, and accelerated changes in production that were commonly referred to as deindustrialization, though this term (as it is widely understood) is a misnomer for workplace shifts to flexible production and the spread of industrial processes into formerly white-collar work. Because neoliberal restructuring is based on faith in the market and decreased government intervention, these shifts occurred without recourse to buffering policies such as retraining, new educational initiatives, or regional development. The foregoing has been visible in both the United Kingdom and the United States and can be traced regionally and locally in much of the former U.S. industrial heartland running from the Northeast across to the Great Lakes states, the so-called Rust Belt. Some cities, including Chicago, have enjoyed rebirth into employment and prosperity as “Third Cities” while others (Detroit and cities in the north of England, for example) have not. The impact has also been uneven within cities. Who enjoyed rebirth into employment and prosperity in the Third City? Who was left behind or stranded in the transition?

The native-born working class took the brunt of the impact in most countries experiencing deindustrialization, and in the United States, the industrial working class had become increasingly African American by the 1970s. How are we to understand the process that stranded African Americans in Chicago (and elsewhere) in conditions of high unemployment and the accompanying deterioration in social capital and living conditions while other residents of the city and the metropolitan area successfully entered the new Third City? A generation ago, the initial, overly simple answer to this question was the mismatch hypothesis that posited a spatial disconnect between the concentration of African Americans in inner cities and the development of new jobs in the suburbs (when such employment opportunities did not leave the region or the country altogether), but this hypothesis has only limited explanatory power (see the discussion among sociologists and urban policy makers in articles by Kasarda 1985; Kain 1992; and Ihlanfeldt and Sjoquist 1998).

A better answer with more explanatory depth is offered by examining the institutional racism that preceded the high levels of unemployment accompanying the emergence of the Second City. The mismatch hypothesis, which is essentially descriptive, overlooks the racialized sources of the spatial gap that seemed to produce job opportunities for whites and unemployment for blacks. African Americans were locked into inner-city, racially isolated areas by decades of institutionally sanctioned racism, as exemplified by redlining (the refusal of (p.24) banks to issue mortgage loans in African American or racially mixed areas), “racial steering” by real estate agents, and informal use of violence when African Americans tried to settle in white neighborhoods. Sociologist William Julius Wilson has been a meticulous observer of the ways that institutional racism and segregation preceded joblessness, creating the conditions under which many African Americans were unable to make the transition into the new economy. In the pages that follow we first summarize Wilson’s main arguments and several important amendments to his work that other researchers have offered. We then sketch out a causal narrative that places the African American socioeconomic lag within the context of Chicago’s transition from the Second to the Third City.

The Wilson School and Chicago’s Persistent Racial Disparities

The most coherent and expansive explanation of how Chicago’s Third City failed to reduce the racial disparities so emblematic of the Second City is Wilson’s When Work Disappears (1997), which details the transformation of African American communities from “institutional ghettos” (i.e., places of involuntary racial isolation) to ghettos of joblessness. Wilson shows the devastating effect of deindustrialization and unemployment in areas of the city that were already subject to extreme segregation and racial isolation. Wilson further documents how employers’ perceptions, the poorly developed state of mass transit on Chicago’s South and West Sides, and the contingencies of everyday life created accelerating problems of unemployment and precarious employment that were not remedied by government intervention. Wilson (1987) had earlier suggested that the poverty of inner-city African Americans may be in part a result of more prosperous households moving to the suburbs, but these were predominantly African American suburbs (such as Harvey, Markham, and Dolton in the Chicago area) that are also poorer than diverse or predominantly white suburbs. Such contemporary suburbs, in fact, replicate long-observed inner-city racial disparities.

In a volume that might be viewed as a successor to When Works Disappears, Robert Sampson in Great American City (2012) reports on the effects of this transition—segregation followed by deindustrialization—on Chicago neighborhoods. Sampson’s analysis focuses on differences among community areas that are associated with concentrated disadvantages in health, safety, and economic conditions. Looking at data from a number of predominantly African American community areas, he reaches the pessimistic assessment that little has changed for the better since the 1960s, and indeed, he argues that the effects of mass incarceration have worsened conditions. The percentage of families living in poverty in an area in 1960 was a strong predictor of the proportion in poverty in 2000, even though many individuals and families have moved in or out of these (p.25) areas. All the areas Sampson identified as subject to concentrated disadvantage are predominantly African American and are home to about 20 percent of the city’s residents. However, one should also bear in mind that not all African American communities experience concentrated disadvantage. Yet compared to middle-income whites, middle-income African Americans are more likely to live near areas with high levels of poverty (Mendell and Little 2003).

One very significant factor differentiates life in communities of concentrated disadvantage in the 2000s, compared to the 1960s and 1970s. This is the unnatural disaster of mass incarceration, which Sampson seems to naturalize as an outgrowth of altered behavior. In Great American City Sampson does not delve very deeply into the forces that have propelled mass incarceration, which include not only actual behaviors but also criminal code provisions, policing practices, pretrial processes, and sentencing policies that have racial effects despite “color-blind” statutes (such as the variation in sentencing for possession of crack in contrast to other forms of cocaine). Journalists such as Steve Bogira (2006; observing a Chicago criminal courtroom) and Mick Dumke (2013; looking at bond-court and pretrial decision making) have shed particular light on the racial disparities in the criminal-legal system in Chicago.

In Black Picket Fences (1999), Mary Pattillo used historical and ethnographic data to trace the declining economic fortunes of a South Side Chicago neighborhood as it slid from a lower middle- and solidly working-class community into one in which young people faced much diminished economic prospects. In particular, she highlights the negative cultural consequences of the broader economic context, such as the increasing impact of drug-trafficking gangs from adjacent areas, intense consumerism (the “reign of Nike”), and ultimately, the “ghetto trance” (styles of resistance that celebrate the rejection of “white” or mainstream culture).

These Chicago-focused studies are complemented by the national perspective offered in Patrick Sharkey’s Stuck in Place (2012). Sharkey analyzes data from a number of U.S. cities and demonstrates that a sizable portion of African Americans have had their economic mobility blocked relative to white counterparts who grew up in families whose initial economic status was essentially similar. His fundamental argument, echoing one of Sampson’s principal contentions, is that “neighborhood effects” substantially limit the life chances of young people living in poor, racially isolated areas.

Why the Third City Failed to Rectify the Racial Disparities of the Second City

The work of William Julius Wilson and his followers is a powerful explanation for persistent racial disparities, but it has also generated counterarguments and (p.26) substantial amendments. One especially notable amendment is the finding by William Sites and Virginia Parks (2011) that even before the rush of deindustrialization, African Americans throughout the United States were excluded from more secure and better paid sectors of the working class. They were not only excluded from the mainstream in terms of residence and education; they were also marginalized in terms of occupation, and their economic status was generally not “essentially similar” to that of whites. In comparison to immigrants and native-born whites, social networks linking blacks to employers were more tenuous, and this situation exacerbated the effects of racial preferences in hiring. Political scientist Ira Katznelson (2006) further argues that New Deal policies, due in large part to the intransigence of southern congressional leadership, did not give African Americans access to many of the state-sponsored social benefits that helped build the post–World War II middle class.

The high rates of unemployment and poverty of African Americans after 1980 were not new phenomena resulting from a new economy. Instead, they were long-standing conditions of disadvantage and occupational marginalization. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the African American unemployment rate was double that of whites (a condition that persisted into the 1980s), and African American workers were disproportionately concentrated in low-wage work (Davis 1986). In the 1970s, Andrew Levison of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change wrote:

The majority of black Americans are working people.… An increase in the minimum wage and serious enforcement of minimum wage laws would do more to end black poverty than anything an army of social workers will ever be able to accomplish. The problem is not values or culture. For the majority it is the typically working-class issue—the size of the paycheck. (1974, 48)

In the terminology of the period, researchers concluded that African Americans were disproportionately in the peripheral labor force rather than in the high-wage core. French social scientist Loïc Wacquant now uses the term precariat (“precarious” plus “proletariat”) to refer to a stratum of workers that faces low wages, job insecurity, and frequent periods of unemployment and underemployment. Whatever the label, this tier of the working class is still disproportionately composed of African Americans and other people of color.

Employer preferences were and continue to be a key element in persistent high levels of unemployment among African Americans. Employer preferences tilted away from hiring African Americans, reflecting a cluster of causes that include not only racist attitudes but also the lower educational attainment of African Americans, inadequate preparation in the public school system, and a greater propensity to unionize or express job dissatisfaction. In the transition to the new economy, employers preferred to hire immigrants both at the high end (p.27) of the new occupational structure (where a high-quality education was decisive) and in the lower tier, where docility and accommodation to unfavorable working conditions constituted desirable traits. This indirect discrimination further impinged on African Americans’ efforts to enter the new economy.

Discrimination against African Americans as militant workers requires a word of explanation because it not as well understood as the more obvious factors of inadequate educational preparation, employer racism, and social networks disconnected from job networks. By the 1960s, African Americans had become more likely to unionize, perhaps in part because they had been confined to particularly dangerous and low-paying jobs within industrial sectors. Because of their greater propensity to unionize, employers saw them as a less attractive labor force for jobs in the lower tier of the new economy. After decades of exclusion from many unions and from good jobs in core sectors of the economy, African Americans had begun to unionize and to demand better pay and working conditions. Political scientist Michael Goldfield (1982, 1987) has documented African Americans’ greater propensity to vote for union representation. Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin (1975) describe African American workers’ militancy in the Detroit-area automobile industry by the 1970s. Sociologist Kathleen Schwartzman’s (2008) brilliant analysis of ethnic succession in the poultry industry shows that the process was often driven by employers’ preferences for immigrant workers over the native born. In the particular case she examined, this was expressed by replacing increasingly militant and unionizing African American workers with immigrants.

When deindustrialization struck communities that had formed in racial isolation during decades of de facto segregation, the upcoming generation experienced great difficulty entering the increasingly globalized, hypermarketized economy. In some form, industrial working classes across the globe encountered these difficulties, but in the Rust Belt of the United States—including the South and West Sides of Chicago—the existing pattern of racial segregation created an exceptional level of disadvantage for African Americans. The impact was primarily intergenerational. Working-class and lower-middle-class African American families faced daunting challenges to their ability to pass on their socioeconomic position to their children. The neighborhood Pattillo profiled in Black Picket Fences is a representative case of how these barriers to preserving middle-class employment for young people played out at the local level. The emerging job categories in the new economy—at the top and at the bottom—were more often filled by children of the affluent white middle class in the top tier and by immigrants in both the top and bottom tiers than by young African Americans.

Immigrants have brought a host of skills to the new economy, and many were educated prior to their arrival in the United States. Their skills are a good match for the new economy, not only as manual workers and care providers but also (p.28) as nurses, physicians, technical workers, software engineers, and entrepreneurs. The investments in human capital that have prepared them for the full range of positions were made wholly or at least in part in their countries of origin. Contrary to stereotypes, immigrants do not just fill the lower tier of the new economy; they also find work in its middle and even upper tiers, although this varies considerably by country of origin (see Koval 2006 for a detailed analysis of the occupational distribution of immigrants in the Chicago area by country of origin).

A brief comparative look at this economic transition suggests both broad overall similarities and national differences and complex regional variation. For example, in Britain the process has had a regional dynamic; the South has become the site of the new economy while the North has experienced high unemployment and limited investment. In Torino, Italy, children of postwar migrants from southern Italy made a reasonably good adjustment as the city reinvented itself as a financial center and tourist destination of baroque palaces, outstanding restaurants, nightlife, and nearby ski slopes. Marginal working-class positions in Torino and other Italian cities are increasingly filled by immigrants from outside the European Union, while the Italian South remains relatively poorer and beset by higher unemployment. In the United States (and certainly in Chicago), the foundation of profound racism and residential segregation created conditions of exclusion for the African American working class that largely prohibited entry into the new economy (Sharkey 2012). The term Rust Belt can be viewed as spatial metaphor that veils a racial dynamic.

The fiscal crisis of governments at the state, municipal, and federal levels and the subsequent waves of public-sector downsizing have also contributed to the racialized impact of the transition to the Third City economy. During the early post–World War II period and particularly in the civil rights era, public sector employment became more open to African Americans. Many of these jobs conferred middle-class status and income. However, across the United States, the shrinkage of the public sector in the last decades of the twentieth century hit African Americans especially hard.

Theorists disagree about how to conceptualize the disadvantaged tier of the class structure. Marxists such as Deepankar Basu (2013) conceptualize a proletariat that includes a reserve army of labor (the unemployed and underemployed). Saskia Sassen (2011) describes global cities as having an hourglass class structure in which a lower tier of low-wage jobs is often filled by immigrants. Wacquant’s term precariat captures the insecurity of this tier. Whatever terms and concepts are used, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that in Chicago, African Americans are disproportionately located in the lower paid, less secure, and less skilled portions of the class structure, its most disadvantaged and chronically unemployed portion. Although a substantial number of African (p.29) Americans have experienced upward mobility in recent decades, the occupational equality and full employment that were central aspirations of the civil rights movement have not been realized. On the contrary, many children of the African American urban industrial working class have sunk into increasingly precarious employment and unemployment.

The spatial and occupational segregations of the pre–civil rights First and Second Cities thus laid the foundation for the devastating impact of deindustrialization as the Second City wound down. The Third, neoliberal city has not undone these conditions. If anything, it has extended their reach across Chicago’s South and West Sides. Although Chicago may well have made the turn from what Bennett calls the Second City to the Third City, many African Americans—and many other persons of color and recent immigrants—are locked in circumstances, neighborhoods, and institutions that amplify the inequalities that were so characteristic of the First and Second Cities.

The Emerging Class-Ethnic Structure

The shift to the Third City has produced a new structure of occupations and a new configuration of social classes that is markedly different from the industrial city’s heavily blue-collar manufacturing work force. Jobs involving manual labor are increasingly to be found in the service sector, light industry, and construction. White-collar jobs encompass both a well-paid segment of attractive “creative class” occupations and a larger and much less remunerative sphere of retail and clerical positions. These two segments are often blurred together with the term “middle class.”

Immigrants in the Emerging Class Structure

The presence of immigrants is closely linked to these occupational changes, and they have added new elements to the persistent baseline of racial inequality. Even though people cross national boundaries far less easily than capital does, a rapid rise in immigration has taken place in the neoliberal era, in sharp contrast to the early to mid-twentieth century’s restrictive immigration regime. Currently, about one-fifth of the population of the Chicago metropolitan region is foreign born. In 2011, more than half a million immigrants lived in Chicago, and Hispanics constituted about half of that population. Individuals of Mexican origin (many of whom are American born) constituted 80 percent of the Hispanic population. Across the six-county metropolitan area, the immigrant population numbered 1,700,000 and Hispanic immigrants constituted 44.3 percent of the total. Other major countries of origin for the foreign born are Poland (8 percent), China (5 percent), the Philippines (4 percent), and India (3 percent).

(p.30) As Chicago’s ethnoracial structure has become much more complicated than simply black and white, the imaginary of race and ethnicity is often viewed as a threefold structure of whites, blacks, and Hispanics, each constituting about a third of the city’s population (with “Asians” forming a much smaller fourth group). Currently, non-Hispanic whites constitute 31.7 percent of the population, African Americans 32.9 percent, Hispanics (including all nations of origin) 28.9 percent, and Asians 5.5 percent (U.S. Census Bureau 2015b). Although these “lumped” folk categories are of very limited use in understanding culture, history, and contemporary conditions, they increasingly have come to replace the older notion of “nationality,” and many Chicagoans use them to talk about racial and ethnic difference and political interests.

In this model of race, class, and ethnicity, Hispanics are seen as intermediate in socioeconomic status between whites and blacks. Their presence appears to fill in the gap between the two racial groups of the Second City and seems to promise a less polarized racial divide. This perception is neither completely accurate nor a complete misrecognition. In median household income, high school completion rates, and poverty rates, Hispanics do indeed fall into an intermediate place.

But in terms of other characteristics, Hispanics are quite different from both whites and African Americans. Hispanics tend to be younger, and the age difference may account for their higher labor force participation rate. The number of workers per household is considerably higher for Hispanic immigrants (especially Mexicans) than for immigrants from other global regions. Both whites and African Americans are more likely to depend on Social Security and retirement income (which is much higher for whites than for blacks). Among the three large ethnoracial categories, Hispanics lag behind whites and African Americans in educational achievement. Fifty-six percent of whites report having earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, more than three times the rate for African Americans and four times the rate for Hispanics. This disparity is related to occupational status. Over half of white workers are employed at better-paid managerial, business, science, and arts occupations and in the FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate) sector, compared to 29 percent of African Americans and only 16.4 percent of Hispanics. One out of five African American workers is employed by a government agency, a sector that has provided job security, a decent income, and opportunities for advancement but is now experiencing job contraction. Hispanics have a more dispersed residential distribution than African Americans, and one recent national study (Iceland and Wilkes 2006) suggests that they (and Asian Americans) are reluctant to live in majority African American neighborhoods.

In short, a more careful look at residential patterns and preferences, educational levels, and occupational distributions suggests that one cannot simply (p.31) place the three large ethnoracial categories on a single fixed scale of advantage and disadvantage. It is probably more accurate to think of Hispanics as replicating immigrant upward mobility along the lines of previous generations of European immigrants, moving from low-wage labor into a wider range of occupations, often—as Cynthia Cranford (2005) and Roger Waldinger (2005) have found—through the effective use of social networks. But they are doing so in a new, bifurcated economy that contains major barriers that separate lower- from upper-tier jobs.

In addition to the popular imagery of three major ethnic groups, another new cognitive map encompasses immigration and diversity. The highly diversified socioeconomic status of immigrants (once one looks beyond the social position of Mexican immigrants) supports an image of cultural diversity and contributes to the perception that the preceding black-white division is obsolete, fragmented into a mosaic formed by many ethnicities, religions, cultures, and nationalities. In this image, race has indeed declined in significance, and we live in an increasingly color-blind society in which what matters are cultural heritage and the decisions of individuals to invest in their own human capital. We will return to this imagery in our discussion of political and discursive responses to the emerging class/ethnic structure.

Stratification: Color, Country, Class, and Capital

A closer look at immigrants and their national origins allows us to see the complex relationship between ethnicity and socioeconomic status and the marked differences in the socioeconomic situations among immigrants depending on regional and national origin. In the Chicago metropolitan area, measures of central tendency (in other words, means and medians) of indicators of immigrant socioeconomic status are heavily weighted by the large presence of Latin American immigrants, particularly Mexicans, who are relatively disadvantaged educationally and economically. However, a more detailed breakdown shows considerable across-group variation, and many immigrants (and their children) are entrepreneurs, professionals, and skilled technical workers. Within the very broad categories of Asian or Latin American there are marked differences in education and socioeconomic status. Table 1.1 displays some of the disparities and the overall diversity.

The data in Table 1.1 suggest broad conclusions about the socioeconomic status of immigrants:

  • Northern and western European immigrants and those from Oceania and Northern America (i.e., Canada) are at least as prosperous as native-born whites. Eastern and southern Europeans are somewhat less so.

(p.32)

Table 1.1. Socioeconomic status indicators by place of origin of immigrants

Region of Birth

Population*

% with College or Graduate Degree

% with White Collar Occupations

Median Household Income

% Earning Less than 100% of Poverty Level

Africa

19,994

40.2

44.2

$32,162

28.6

Northern America

4,445

74.0

90.6

$84,741

11.3

Oceania

1,161

63.3

91.8

$116,250

21.2

Northern & Western Europe

17,137

50.9

79.3

$65,691

5.4

Southern and Eastern Europe

86,329

28.7

40.0

$41,064

9.6

Eastern Asia§

40,694

44.6

62.6

$37,063

25.8

South Central Asia§

28,812

66.1

79.6

$59,164

20.1

South Eastern Asia§

34,167

52.7

63.3

$65,172

12.2

Western Asia§

13,272

40.1

69.5

$39,585

27.2

Mexico

260,967

4.8

21.2

$39,475

23.4

Central America

23,669

11.2

29.6

$39,354

16.8

Caribbean

11,947

23.7

51.8

$39,375

21.9

South America

27,050

26.5

37.1

$49,017

14.5

Source: U.S. Census 2008.

(*) Estimate

() Age 25+

() Managerial, professional, sales, and office work

(§) Asian country classification:

Eastern Asia: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Macau, Mongolia

Western Asia: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Bahrain, Cyprus, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Yemen

South Central Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan

South Eastern Asia: Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam

  • (p.33) • “Asian” is a very heterogeneous category of immigrants, and there are considerable differences among the better educated and more prosperous Southern Asians and immigrants from Eastern Asia and from Western Asia (who, at present, are often refugees from regional conflicts). Within these broad regional categories there are further differences by national origin (both in educational and economic circumstances), for example, between Pakistani and Indian immigrants, as sociologists John Koval and Ken Fidel (2006) have charted.

  • Latin Americans include both immigrants from South America with a higher median level of income and education and generally less well educated and lower income immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

  • African immigrants have lower median incomes and are more likely to be impoverished than both other immigrants (including Latinos) and the native-born white population.

  • For virtually every region-of-origin category and socioeconomic status rubric (with the exception of education level for Mexican immigrants), immigrants fare better than African Americans and appear to have directly stepped onto a higher rung of the stratification system.

When the data are further broken down by country of origin (rather than region), the disparities and diversity become even more striking. Sociologist John Koval (2006), who has looked at the occupations of immigrants by country of origin, has uncovered remarkable differences. To cite but one of his findings, the modal occupation of women immigrants from India in 2000 was physician!

One interpretation of Table 1.1 is that it confirms the persistence of racial dominance and a pattern of white supremacy that were already apparent in the First and Second Cities. We still see whites at the top of the socioeconomic hierarchy and African Americans at the bottom, with immigrants of color generally in less favorable positions than European immigrants (as measured by indicators of socioeconomic status). This conclusion matches sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s (2013) analysis of the emerging racial hierarchy of the United States. It also corresponds to the observation offered by Canadian scholars Boudreau, Keil, and Young about Toronto’s patterns of labor market segregation, unemployment, poor working conditions, substandard housing, and distressed neighborhoods: “Multiculturalism, in other words, has not prevented the racialization of poverty but has led to inequalities in the well-being of visible minority populations” (Boudreau, Keil, and Young 2009, 92).

However, to use only “race” (i.e., skin color or visible-minority status) as a predictor of the class position of immigrants is oversimplified and neglects other relevant factors, above all the economic condition of their country of origin and furthermore their own class position within that country. World Bank analyst Branko Milanovic (2005) has assembled data demonstrating that (p.34) the purchasing power of individuals in the global system can largely be predicted by two variables. The most important is the position of their country of residence in the global economic system, and the second most important is their own class location within that country. The class situation of immigrants (measured by their purchasing power or income) is more complicated than that of nonmigrants because not only is it shaped by the economic position of their new country of residence but it is also influenced by the economic position of their country of origin and by their own class location within the country of origin prior to their migration. The data reporting socioeconomic status characteristics of immigrants in the Chicago area (Table 1.1) clearly reflect the position of their countries of origin in the global system, including economic level and ability to offer emigrants a strong foundation of skills and education. For example, Polish immigrants have generally benefited from a better educational system in their country of origin than immigrants from Mexico. The historic relationship between the country of origin and the United States is also related to the differences among countries that affect the circumstances of immigration and the life opportunities of immigrants. Moreover, individuals and families of immigrants experience very different class situations and opportunities for increasing their human capital in their countries of origin, and they arrive in the United States with very different levels of skill and education. This factor complicates the tendency toward a “color hierarchy,” as demonstrated by the case of well-educated Asian Indian immigrants (Rangaswamy 2006).

The Realigning Significance of Class

The occupations, households, and life experiences of the new middle strata are quite distinct from those of the middle class in the industrial era. Though still majority white, they are now more diverse than in the past, and members of this group are more likely to live as singles rather than within nuclear family households (Klinenberg 2012). And of course, there are a wide array of new occupations and professions.

However, U.S. census and other data sources only take us only so far in understanding how middle-class life in the Third City diverges from its preceding iteration in the Second City. Stand at the corner of Clark Street and Diversey Parkway on Chicago’s North Side on a warm Saturday afternoon or a cold weekday rush hour. Around you swirl the faces of 30-year olds and millennials. Many (but not all) of them are white and appear to be middle-class. Who are all these hip-looking people talking on their phones or stroking their tablets, typically while toting shopping bags? Are they representatives of Richard Florida’s creative class, the well-educated “smart” young professionals with college educations and high-tech skills who are lifting cities out of the doldrums of deindustrialization

(p.36) and inventing new economies based on research and development, advanced corporate services, the arts, and up-market consumption (Florida 2002)?

Or are these young people a “new proletariat,” a working class condemned to a lifetime of meager earnings, life in tiny apartments in which the dining room table doubles as a work desk and an emergency storage platform, biking in the ice and snow of the Chicago winter, and postponing a family and children under the cover of an ideology of perpetual youth and carefreeness? Maybe these are not the faces of the creative class but of economist Tyler Cowen’s new working class (or “lower-middle class”; as he puts it “the new below-average”), a new proletariat that seems different from the old one because of its educational attainment, cool clothes, and hipster ways, appearances that conceal its straitened earning power and diet of beans, albeit very healthy ones (Broughton 2013; Cowen 2013a). Maybe the young people are new proletarians who will never own a viable business (even though they initiate many failed startups), never attain a strong professional standing, never become rich, and perhaps never own a home or enjoy job security. This prospective proletariat can be found in a vast range of occupations associated with an advanced capitalist economy, an economy in which information and professional services are largely industrialized, or “automated,” as people used to say. Many of them are in computer, software, and digital technology fields, and some are in health care (another one of Florida’s creative categories). As citizens, as relatively well-educated workers, as smart consumers safely on the good side of the digital divide, they do not look as if they are in a precarious tier of the labor force, but Cowen is pretty merciless in his assessment:

Imagine a very large bohemian class of the sort that say, lives in parts of Brooklyn.… It will be culturally upper or upper-middle class, but there will be the income of lower-middle class. They may have lives that are quite happy and rewarding, but they may not have a lot of savings. There will be a certain fragility to this existence.

(Cowen 2013b)

This fragility is different from the pressures working-class families experienced in the past. With small households, attention can focus on food, lifestyle, DIY projects such as the ingenious fashioning of backpacks from old tweed pants and computer desks from industrial rubbish. At its lower reaches, the “creative class” gently tails off into the new “below average” without a sharp fault line, as these strata are not all that different in their ethnic composition, tastes, lifestyles, and even educational attainment. Providing city comparisons but in sharply contrasting tones, Eric Klinenberg describes opting out of family formation in his largely New York–based and cheerful Going Solo (2012), while Jennifer Silva offers a somber portrait of psychological fragility, political (p.37) disengagement, and self-blame in Coming Up Short (2013), her interview-based study of white and African American working-class young adults in Lowell, Massachusetts and Richmond, Virginia.

No discussion of emerging class structure would be complete without mention of the rise of plutocracy in the uppermost tier of almost every global city. By “plutocracy” we refer not only to the increasing numbers of the very wealthy in global cities but also to their impact on real estate markets, planning and development, and political decision making. Since the nineteenth century, Chicago has been home to extremely wealthy individuals and families, so their presence and political role are not new phenomena. The Gold Coast area on the city’s near North Side remains Chicago’s wealthiest district.

Judging how “plutocratic” Chicago has become depends on the metric. Alan Berube (2014) of the Brookings Institution places Chicago in eighth place on an index of city inequality formed by comparing the income of households at the 95th percentile to those at the 20th percentile in the distribution of income in the city in 2012. By this measure, Chicago’s ratio of 12.5 ($201,460 to $16,078) is high but considerably lower than the most unequal city, Atlanta, which has an 18.8 ratio ($280,827 to $14,850). Compared to New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, Chicago is home to a relatively smaller number of households whose incomes fall within the top 5 percent of the national income distribution. Not only is Chicago’s plutocracy relatively smaller than the comparable cohorts in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco areas, Chicago does not even make the top ten list of metropolitan regions with the most sizable proportions of the affluent (Kurtzleben 2013, reporting U.S. census data). Real estate prices suggest that Chicago lags behind New York (and certainly behind London) in the extent to which the wealthy are the main beneficiaries of central city development and the driving force of real estate markets. Chicago also falls well below the top thirty in the cost-of-living rankings for global cities (Mercer 2014). Chicago’s modest standing according to such measures suggests that its “home town global elite” has not yet fully detached itself from the markets in which local middle- and working-class households participate (Reich 1991). However, recently completed enclaves in the “expanded Loop” (and certainly specific projects such as Trump Tower) may be physical predictors of Chicago’s convergence with global trends. In what is called the New East Side—toward the lake from Michigan Avenue and along the Chicago River—anchored by the architecturally stunning Aqua Tower and organized via a tri-level street plan, homeless people congregate in the lowest level, even as above them an expanding cohort of the very wealthy seems to monopolize the attention of those who plan the city’s future physical development.

(p.38) Neoliberalism, Reimagined Inequality, and Politics

Race, ethnicity, immigration trends, and social class play out in particular ways in neoliberal Chicago. On the one hand, the patterns we have described extend older conditions of social hierarchy and group separation that the Second City manifested. And in other ways—such as the very recent trends we have just discussed—globalizing forces and neoliberal policy have contributed to the shape of the emerging Chicago. Race, ethnicity, immigration, and social class also contribute to how we interpret and behave in the world or, when we reduce the scale of “the world,” how we interpret and behave within our local realm, our particular city. These interpretations are not simply products of the media; they are rooted in social networks and everyday experience. As Marx said of ideology: “They do not know it, but they are doing it” (quoted in Žižek 1989, 28).

We conclude this chapter by outlining four ideological processes, broadly defined, that tend to reduce both the recognition and discussion of social inequality/disparities in neoliberal Chicago: (1) displacement of the marginalized and working class from visible public spaces; (2) the disengagement of these groups from voting and other forms of conventional political engagement; (3) the emergence of cognitive maps that encourage people to see inequality in terms of individual effort, smart choices, and cultural values; and (4) a general shrinkage of the public sphere and public discussion.

Neoliberal policies such as the redevelopment of public housing complexes and zero-tolerance policing of the Loop have literally reduced the presence of African Americans and other people of color, the poor, and the otherwise marginalized from central Chicago. According to the market logic that aligns with these public policies, valuable territory is secured where the responsible middle and upper classes can pursue entrepreneurship, management, and consumption. This reorganization of space and displacement of the marginalized is one geographic reflection of what French social scientists Pierre Bourdieu (2010) and Loïc Wacquant (2008) call the retreat by the “left hand of the state,” or social functions such as public education, housing, and health care directed to those with limited economic and cultural capital, in favor of the “right hand of the state,” functions such as policing and the criminal court system that seek to enforce public order and individual discipline.

“The black community is really messed up now.… We had leaders before.… We as a people have been totally forgotten,” observes Morris Shadrach Davis, a relative of two recent Chicago shooting victims (quoted in Johnson and Babwin 2013). The voting participation of Chicago African Americans jumped markedly during the two elections (1983 and 1987) that brought Harold Washington—the (p.39) city’s first black mayor—to office. However, since the 1987 election, black voting participation has markedly declined (Lewis, Taylor, and Kleppner 1997). In all likelihood, the introduction in 1995 of nonpartisan mayoral balloting reinforced the political alienation at the heart of this decline; most observers view this change as having reduced the chances of prospective African American mayoral candidates.

This change in voting patterns and procedures has accompanied the erosion of political leadership in the African American community, marked by the weak performance of Carol Moseley Braun both as a U.S. senator and as a 2011 mayoral candidate (she received only 10 percent of the vote), the floundering of Todd Stroger as president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, and the painful spectacle of the criminal convictions of Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Alderman Sandra Jackson, on charges of illegal use of campaign funds. Although African American clergy remain engaged on many issues and at least one current African American officeholder, Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle, has maintained a visible and positive public profile and is widely discussed as a future candidate for Chicago mayor, the vigorous leadership of the civil rights era appears to have faded, and the names of activists such as Harold Washington, Jesse Jackson Sr., Renault Robinson, Al Raby, Ralph Metcalfe, and Richard Newhouse are rarely evoked by the media or in the conversation of Chicago’s millennial generation and students.

In the view of French philosopher Michel Foucault (2008, 2009), the dynamics of late-twentieth-century capitalism, which are reflected in ever-increasing individuation, “flexibility,” privatization, entrepreneurialism, and risk management operate not only on the individual level; they also operate at the level of institutions and at the level of the state. The social practices that embody individuation, privatization, entrepreneurialism, and the like, in turn, are associated with a mode of governing that promotes insecurity and instability. In this fashion, the populace becomes “entrepreneurs of themselves” navigating an “enterprise society”(Foucault 2008, 226, 147). The social world discards notions such as solidarity and common effort in favor of constant competition and performance metrics at school, in the workplace, and, not least, on the health club treadmill.

In Chicago—as across the North America, Europe, and increasing portions of Asia—market solutions have become the preferred antidote to social inequalities. The ideal citizen has become a “smart consumer” who navigates a host of complex choices in the public sector as well as private markets. Education scholar Pauline Lipman (2006) documents the welter of options offered by Chicago’s “reformed” public schools, which nonetheless result in the concentration of middle-income and white students in magnet schools while youngsters in lower income communities of color typically attend neighborhood schools and (p.40) military academies. In his book Heat Wave (2002), sociologist Eric Klinenberg discusses the disastrous consequences for elderly, ill, and poor people who were unable to identify and contact the agencies they needed for help to survive the debilitating weather conditions of July 1995. It is of course a bitter irony that more choice only seems to amplify older race- and class-derived social disparities.

Two variables—cultural heritage and human capital—are believed to account for the differences in socioeconomic outcomes. This emphasis on culture and human capital is both factual and mythical. It is not completely untrue, but it obscures the historical and economic origins of inequality between whites and African Americans and the racial dimension of socioeconomic stratification. The images of the mosaic of diversity and individual responsibility and the foregrounding of cultural difference and individual initiative dovetail well with neoliberal views of social inequality as an individual rather than a public issue. A highly differentiated ethnoracial spectrum paradoxically contributes to a deceptive color-blindness in popular discourse because the historical specificity of racial inequality is lost from view amid the emergent complexities of cultural and ethnic diversity.

Neoliberalism as an ideology of markets and individualism is associated with an ideological shift from the idea that government should and can look out for people and establish a shared common good to a belief that the role of government centers on support for entrepreneurship and control of disruptive forces. As political philosopher Michael Sandel (2012) points out, in this ideology, all political, social, and moral issues are dissolved and eliminated by the workings of the market. Racial and class inequalities are removed from an agenda of governing whose main premise is a purported equivalence between freedom and the logic of the market. What then unfolds in the management of neoliberal society is the rapidly increasing gap between upper and middle strata whose members possess the means and resources to live out their own private interests and a lower stratum whose members become the objects of displacement, surveillance, and the penal system. In Chicago, while the upper and middle strata are diverse, the lower stratum is disproportionately composed of people of color and especially African Americans.

Ultimately, an especially troubling aspect of racial and social class disparities in a neoliberal city is the difficulty of addressing these problems in public discussion and debates about policy options and an equity agenda. Commentators representing a variety of ideological positions and disciplines, including Pierre Bourdieu (1991) and American sociologist Theda Skocpol (2004), have expressed concern about the withering of public policy-oriented political discourse. In Chicago, following a general decline in the vitality, staffing, and readership of print journalism (see Box 3.2), only a small number of print journalists consistently write about racial isolation and inequality in the city. For an exception, (p.41) see the work of Steve Bogira and Mick Dumke in The Chicago Reader (2013, 2015). Legal scholar Cass Sunstein (2009) points out that Internet forums are often marked by hyperfragmentation of interpretation and hyperpolarization of opinion.

These empirical developments seem to confirm the forebodings, expressed decades ago, by important social critics such as Jürgen Habermas (1991) and Hannah Arendt. Arendt (1977) argued that the existence of a public sphere balances and helps curb the pursuit of private interest, whereas in neoliberal ideology, it is precisely the pursuit of private interest that is supposed to produce the common good. This individualism obscures structural factors that produce inequalities by making all social and political issues appear as if they were personal matters of the work ethic, an entrepreneurial attitude, or a disposition toward self-advancement. Racial isolation exacerbates the tendencies in neoliberalism to shrink the public sphere. In a racially divided city, there are few occasions that permit, and equally few institutions that encourage, the discussion of public issues across racial and class lines.

As Chicago becomes the province of only those who can afford to live there, economic citizenship overshadows political citizenship. Although everyone is impacted by the neoliberal shrinkage of the public sphere, working-class and lower income people and persons of color are particularly hard hit, and their major resources—numbers and social capital—are diminished, even as politics as we have known it is diminished. The emergent, highly circumscribed “public” has become so privatized, so protective of private finances, and so opposed to taxation that it has become nearly impossible for the state, even if it were inclined to do so, to reassert itself and promote redistribution of income or broadly beneficial public investment. The dwindling of social programs and the privatization of all spheres of life leave people feeling disenfranchised, and this was a primary component of the political apathy characteristic of Chicago during the 1990s and the first decade of the new century.

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Notes:

(1.) The index of dissimilarity is a measure used to express residential segregation or the uneven distribution of two groups in a specific territory. A high index score means that an area is very segregated and that the two groups do not live in an even distribution across the territory. The score can be read as the percentage of people in one of the groups that would have to move in order to create the same proportions in a sub-area as the proportion that pertains to the territory as a whole. (Example: While Chicago’s population is about 32 percent African American, this overall proportion is found in few neighborhoods. Many neighborhood populations are either less than 10 percent African American or over 90 percent African American.)