Is Chicago a second-rate city?

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June 19, 2012

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- Is Chicago a second-rate city?

That's a question urban analyst Aaron Renn asked in an article published in the City Journal that many are calling "sobering." Renn, who lived in Chicago for 20 years, basically slams Chicago for its obsession with calling itself a "global city," saying that will not cure the city's deep poverty, declining population, Loop job losses and Illinois's precarious fiscal situation.

"The gleaming towers, swank restaurants, and smart shops remain, but Chicago is experiencing a steep decline quite different from that of many other large cities," Renn wrote. "It is a deeply troubled place, one increasingly falling behind its large urban brethren and presenting a host of challenges for new mayor Rahm Emanuel."

Renn's main point: unlike New York or Silicon Valley, Chicago's economy lacks a "calling card" industry – it's more like the "unofficial" capital of the Midwest. 

His piece is quite the talk around town, Crain's columnist Greg Hinz writes.

Lee Bey (full disclosure: one of our WBEZ bloggers) told me what was remarkable about the story that was Renn "gave voice publicly to things that have been whispered privately," adding he, like many, feel it is an honest assessment of the city.

"I wanted to really put out the data that shows we have big, big problems in Chicago," Renn said, when I reached him yesterday at his new home in Rhode Island. "I think bits and pieces have been put over the place, but I don’t think people have tied in the economic, demographic and financial problems."

- Is there a skills mismatch in the job market? Economists like to use this term to talk about the difference between the skills workers have and the skills needed for the jobs employers are hiring for. There's been much talk about this during the Great Recession, but a new report from the Chicago Fed concludes probably not, at least in a widespread way.

The authors analyzed a lot of data to conclude that most likely the low levels of hiring are because employers appear "hesitant to fully commit to hiring" for the openings they have, although there is evidence there may be a mismatch among "middle-skilled" workers, or those who require a moderate level of skill. I did a story about this last week looking at people who want to get into these types of jobs in manufacturing that looked at the advanced math and reading skills required these days for jobs like welding – and how many workers just don't have those basic skills.