New Report Calculates Cost Of Chicago-area’s Segregation

A hazy Chicago skyline.
A hazy Chicago skyline. Evan Butterfield via Flickr
A hazy Chicago skyline.
A hazy Chicago skyline. Evan Butterfield via Flickr

New Report Calculates Cost Of Chicago-area’s Segregation

If the Chicago area were less segregated, homicides would plunge, African-Americans would make more money and more people would graduate college.

Those are some of the major conclusions in a new report by the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute. Specifically, the report argues:

  • Incomes for African-Americans living in the area would rise by an average of $2,982 per person per year

  • The Chicago region’s homicide rate would drop by 30 percent

  • About 83,000 more people would have bachelor’s degrees

The report also ranked the Chicago region 20th out of the nation’s 100 metropolitan areas in economic segregation (New York ranked first), 10th in black-white segregation (Milwaukee ranked first) and ninth in Latino-white segregation (Reading, Pennsylvania ranked first).

Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia spoke with Alden Loury, director of research and evaluation at the Metropolitan Planning Council, about the report and what steps need to be taken to desegregate the area. Below are highlights from their conversation.

On potential region-wide effects of desegregation

Tony Sarabia: There is this assumption out there that segregation only affects the most marginalized people in society. But the report concludes that everyone pays a price measured in lost incomes, lives and education. Unpack that a little more for us.

Alden Loury: Even on the finding that black per capita income would increase with lower levels of segregation, understand that in Chicago’s case, we’re essentially estimating a $4.4 billion boost in aggregate black income — about $3,000 per person in the Chicago region. Understand that that income is going to have a ripple effect for the economy.

The annual growth in Chicago’s gross domestic product is about 0.6 percent, dating back to 2001. A boost of $4.4 billion in income means about a 1.7 percent growth in the average income of the region, and consequently a 1.7 percent growth in the region’s GDP, which we estimate is about an $8 billion bump. That’s two and a half times larger than the average annual growth that the Chicago region sees. So what we’re hypothesizing here is that if we can reduce our level of segregation and see the benefits of increased black income, there will be a regional benefit to that.

On where Chicago stands

Loury: Chicago has actually done some things. At least the experience appears to have shown some level of progress. The Chicago region is the only region out of these 100 metros that saw a decline of all three measures of segregation — economic segregation, black-white segregation and latino-white segregation — between 1990 and 2000 and between 2000 and 2010. The only region that did that. So was there something that’s been happening here locally over that 20-year span that, to a very minor degree, lowered those numbers? We want to take a closer look at what’s happened in Chicago that’s perhaps … had this impact that we should be thinking about expanding and doing more of.

On why desegregation can’t wait

Sarabia: One of the things the study points out is how long it would take to desegregate Chicago. We’re talking 50 years. That’s a long time. Why 50 years and is that a discouraging sign?

Loury: Our hope is that what people will see this report as a call to action. Certainly we want to be clear that the news is troubling, in terms of the level of segregation. In the combined metric, the Chicago region is fifth in the nation. But we also want to point out that we have seen very minor progress, and we’ve seen it in an across-the-board fashion, but the progress is so slow that at that pace, particularly with regard to black-white segregation, in order for us to drop to the median-level that we see currently, it would take us literally 50 to 60 years to get there.

So what we’re saying is that, given the cost, given that $4.4 billion in income, given a 30 percent reduction in homicides that we would see if we were at the median in terms of segregation, given 83,000 more bachelor’s degrees, obtained mostly by whites in the Chicago region — 78 percent of which would be attained by whites and 22 percent that would be attained by African-Americans — given that lost potential, we cannot afford to wait at the current pace that we’re going. We’ve got to figure out how can we do this better and how can we do it faster.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the ‘play’ button to listen to the entire interview.