Citylab: Chicago’s awful divide

Citylab, March 28, 2018: Chicago’s awful divide

Americans hear a lot these days about the country’s urban-rural divide. Rural counties are poorer; urban ones richer. Rural areas are losing jobs; urban ones are gaining them. People with a college education are leaving rural areas. They’re moving to urban places.

Behind this divergence lies a straightforward story: The twin forces of globalization and technological change are enriching a handful of big urban areas, while resources are drained from the heartland, leaving it often devoid of opportunity and prosperity. But this neat division, rural versus urban, erases another part of the story of America’s changing economy: the pressure that those twin forces are exerting within cities, pulling some people up to the very top while pushing others to an unforgiving bottom. In some prosperous cities, like Chicago, where the number of wealthy census tracts has grown fourfold since 1970, people at the bottom are struggling as much as they always have, if not more—illustrating that it’s not just the white rural poor who are being left behind in today’s economy. The disconnect is why Andrew Diamond, the author of Chicago on the Make, has called Chicago “a combination of Manhattan smashed against Detroit.”

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