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Tale of two cities: Chicago, New York epitomize struggle for economic justice

Updated: November 11, 2013 5:52PM



Bill De Blasio is garnering national attention for his landslide election in the New York City Mayor’s race. De Blasio campaigned on a populist agenda, highlighting the stark contrast between the poor and the mega-rich in New York’s “tale of two cities.” De Blasio’s analysis is sadly true for cities across the country, which too often feature two worlds, one of privilege and wealth, another of poverty and despair.

In Chicago, for example, the contrasts are stark between the affluent North Side and the impoverished south and southwest. On the Near North Side, the average income is over $87,000 a year; in West Englewood, it is $10,599. Almost half (44.4 percent) of the households in Englewood are below the poverty line; in the North Center neighborhood, 7.4 percent are poor. Unemployment is a staggering 35.9 percent in West Englewood, compared with 4.7 percent in Lincoln Park in the north, or 4.8 percent in the Loop, the central business district.

In poor neighborhoods, poor people are deprived of basic services. There’s no community bank in Englewood or West Englewood. There are no hospitals in West Englewood and only one in Englewood. The professional standard for an ambulance run is 20 minutes or less in Chicago, but 43 percent of trauma-related hospital runs in Englewood take longer than that.

Chicago closed 50 public schools this year, the largest single wave of school closings in U.S. history. The great bulk of these were schools in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods.

Not surprisingly, poverty, unemployment and poor services bring misery. Since 2008, nearly one in five homes in Englewood (18.2 percent) have suffered foreclosure; only 1.6 percent were foreclosed in affluent Lincoln Park. There are more than 1,000 vacant city-managed lots in West Englewood, but only six in affluent Lake View.

There have been at least 50 shooting victims this year in Englewood and at least 47 in West Englewood, but not a single shooting victim in Lincoln Park or Lincoln Square, and three in the Loop (last updated July 2, 2013).

The rich and the poor live in the same city but in two different worlds. Bill De Blasio swept to victory in New York City by decrying these disparities and promising to do something about them. He vowed to lift taxes on the very wealthy and use the money to fund pre-kindergarten for every child, a proven method to prepare kids to learn. He has promised to require that developers of high-end properties contribute to build affordable housing. He’s vowed to end the racially biased stop-and-frisk policies that were trampling the rights of young people of color.

In cities across the nation, poor neighborhoods struggle with school and hospital closings, dangerous streets, high unemployment and crushed dreams. For years, politicians have promised to get tough with mandatory sentences, three strikes and you’re out, stop and frisk. But these are reactions, not remedies. They treat the symptoms, not the underlying conditions.

De Blasio’s victory suggests the possibility of a new, more promising direction. Peace requires some sense of justice. And justice requires opportunity. The cities that refuse to learn that may well end up envying those that act on it.

Email: jjackson@rainbowpush.org



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