Segregated Neighborhoods of Chicago: trapping people in a vicious cycle of poverty?

Blurb: What does growing up on a ‘poor’ street entail? This podcast dives into history to examine how the economically depressed areas of Chicago came to exist, and the social and economic conditions that make it difficult to undo such inequities. Community resources need to be leveraged to bring lasting solutions for our Chicago neighbors to escape this cycle of poverty, and achieve the American dream.
Tags: Urban poverty, cultural segregation, Socio-economics, unemployment, neighborhood
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Audio Transcript

Host Intro:
Welcome to the ELI’s Finding Chicago Global Perspectives Podcast Series for AEPP 2022. I’m your host, Avantika Negi, and I’m currently enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Physical Sciences Division as a Ph.D. student. Today we will be exploring the topic of poverty-stricken neighborhoods within Chicago and the underlying issues such gated communities face on a worldwide level.
Introduction and Poverty statistics for Chicago:
America has been considered as a nation which embraces immigrants more than any other nation and is entitled to be called a melting pot. The promise of the American dream is about the possibility of upward mobility; namely, that anyone, regardless of where they were born and what class they were born into, can achieve success on their own terms.  For parents who want their children t
o live the American Dream, Chicago is a city that doesn’t work, a group of university researchers found [1][7]. Among the top 50 major cities in the United States, Chicago ranked a dismal No. 32. Even worse, it is especially difficult for children from poor Chicago families to break the cycle of poverty, compared with other regions in the country. The researchers examined administrative records on the incomes of more than 40 million children and their parents. Families that continually live in poverty are subject to higher crime (many become convicted criminals themselves), poorer health, education and substandard housing.  Sixty years after the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, most of the United States remains a residentially segregated society in which blacks and whites inhabit different neighborhoods of significantly different quality[2].  Indeed, Garfield Park has been overtaken by the city and today is surrounded by one of two immense Black neighborhoods of Chicago: West Side (the other is South Side, equally called the Black Belt).
Poverty is a significant problem across the country. 17% of all Chicagoans live in poverty, and the percent is even higher in Black and Latino communities. In 2017, 44% of Chicagoans could not afford basic needs, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread and sustained job losses, health risks, and increased caregiving responsibilities. [6] Causes of poverty include unemployment, not owning property, limited education, inherited poverty, and the systematic exclusion of racial and ethnic minorities from accessing education and participating in fair economic enterprise.
Tracing the roots of the Black Belt:
Taking the long view helps us to see the more recent patterns as part of a long and evolving history. From this vantage point, we find that black population trends in Chicago are associated with trends in levels of racial inequality, as indicated by racial disparities in unemployment and wages. When inequality in Chicago was lower than many Southern cities during the mid-20th century, black migration to Chicago was very high. After 1980, however, racial inequality in Chicago became worse, both compared to historical levels within Chicago and in relation to other cities. At this point, Chicago’s black population started to decline [3].
Viewing these population dynamics over the past century allows us to see how inequities built into the fabric of Chicago during and after the Great Migration, particularly the segregation of black residents to the “black belt” and subsequent economic disinvestment from these communities, had enduring effects that would surface more prominently in the 1980s and beyond. While the contemporary exodus of Chicago’s black residents is driven in part by the ongoing consequences of a long history of injustices, it is also driven by current, ongoing policy decisions that negatively affect Black Chicagoans. [4]
Prior to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, a wide range of public and private practices (e.g., redlining in lending, reinvestment, contract sales, discrimination by realtors and landlords, restrictive covenants, blockbusting, organized white resistance) segregated arriving African Americans into a small, densely populated segment of Chicago known as the “black belt.” As black neighborhoods expanded on the S
outh and West Sides, many white residents in these communities moved to the suburbs or neighborhoods in Chicago’s North Side instead of residing in what would have been racially integrated neighborhoods. [5]
Worldwide- Socio-economic effects of poverty:
Why do people stay poor? This is one of the key questions in economics. Understanding what causes poverty and its potential persistence is key to solving the mass poverty problem that motivated early contributors to development economics. [9] One of the most commonly identified poverty traps in modern America is living in a neighborhood in which a high percentage of people are also living in poverty. These neighborhoods frequently have underperforming schools, poor healthcare access, minimal job access and high crime rates. The main income for governments is the tax that they collect from their population. They collect tax from people and utilize these funds to provide various facilities in the form of infrastructure, security, health care and so on. In poor economies, the government has a limited tax-collecting capacity due to its poor population. Hence, it finds itself unable to afford expensive investments in infrastructure.
Without funds, the government cannot provide employment opportunities to its people, which in turn contributes to higher levels of unemployment and poverty. In addition to unemployment, poor countries usually have a large population, which makes things worse. The resources available per person gradually become less and less. People who are below the poverty line struggle to make ends meet. In such situations, education becomes a luxury. A lack of adequate education leaves them incapable of getting better jobs, further cementing their situation and extending poverty across generations. Why can’t people who have low income earn enough to save? Many factors affect the ability of a person to earn, particularly in the face of poverty. Clearly, there are many factors that cause poverty traps to both emerge and remain in place. This makes it very difficult to suggest policy proposals, since there are hundreds of traps that an economy may fall into. Any policy intervention attempting to pull it out of one trap may end up pushing it into another, even bigger, crisis. As a result, economies and entire countries can stagnate in their impoverished state.
High unemployment caused by segregation is bad for everyone, not just minorities and the poor. When employment drops, people become more reliant on the social safety net, increasing the amount that the government must spend on welfare programs. When crime rates increase, everyone is less safe. Segregation, poverty, and crime are not just issues that affect poor people, but societal plagues with deeply felt ramifications. If society is serious about tackling poverty, one of the first topics that will have to be addressed is how to more effectively integrate our neighborhoods and cities. [10]
At a time of unprecedented challenges that demand collective action, we cannot accept the waste of human potential that poverty represents. Poverty is a form of violence. It leads to prejudice and humiliation and it silences people. It destroys lives and is a major obstacle to forging a sustainable and peaceful world. But poverty is not inevitable. Like slavery or discrimination, it can be overcome. For as long as poverty has existed, those who suffer it have resisted its injustice. The world needs their knowledge and intelligence in order to face today’s challenges. [11]
The time has come to build a world where no one is left behind. By learning from those living in poverty, we can finally free ourselves from the exclusion and domination that have governed human relationships for too long.
[2] Sethi, Rajiv; Somanathan, Rohini (2004). “Inequality and Segregation”. Journal of Political Economy112 (6): 1296–1321.
[3] Logan, John R.; Zhang, Weiwei; Turner, Richard; Allison (2015). “Creating the Black Ghetto: Black Residential Patterns Before and After the Great Migration”. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. PMC. 660 (1): 18–35.
[5] Drake, St. Clair, and Horace Clayton. 1945. Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. New York: Harper & Row
[9] Why Do People Stay Poor? Clare Balboni, Oriana Bandiera, Robin Burgess, Maitreesh Ghatak, and Anton Heil∗ February 8, 2021.
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