Asian residents are at the beginning of the immigration cycle. Their numbers increased by 31%, the most among the major ethnic groups in the city. They are still predominantly foreign-born at 67%, up from 73% two decades ago. To date, there has been no mass movement of Asian residents away from downtown Chicago; 37% were in the same five community areas in 2020 as in 2010. On the other hand, due to their higher income and education levels, coupled with a high rate of intermarriage, many Asian newcomers install themselves in the kernel to begin with. Chicago’s Asian population is on the rise in all central community areas.
Chicago’s black community is heading in three different directions.
Overall, the 2020 census showed that Chicago’s black community was making modest economic progress. The black poverty rate fell from 34% to 26% and the number of black university graduates increased by 23,000, despite the loss of 85,000 total black residents. However, closer examination reveals three divergent accounts:
• The West Side is in transition, with the departure of black households giving way to those of other ethnicities, mainly Hispanic residents. The Far West Side’s five community areas — Humboldt Park, Austin, East and West Garfield Park, and North Lawndale — went from 81% black and 14% Hispanic in 2000 to 67% black and 26% Hispanic in 2020. The total number of households and dwellings increased during the 2010s.
• Black neighborhoods on the south side of the interior remain in decline. Most of the black population loss during the 2010s – 61,000 people – occurred in this region. An influx of Hispanic residents is offsetting the loss of black community members in some sections, but a cluster of eight communities stretching south and east of Englewood and West Englewood have collectively lost 1,200 households and 3,000 housing, suggesting that the area is emptying.
• The south shore of the lake is integrating into the core, with an increase in population, income and level of education. As previously reported, this area, made up of eight communities stretching from the South Loop to the South Rim, is increasingly resembling the North Lakefront, with a growing number of college-educated professionals working downtown. It diversifies but remains predominantly black. We believe that this development is of crucial importance.
At first glance, a scattered but growing cluster of Far South Side neighborhoods with above-average numbers of college graduates suggests that former middle-class black communities stretching from the South Shore to Beverly are beginning to resurrect. On closer inspection, the apparent increase is more a function of subtraction than addition. Many college graduates are aging holdovers from the 1970s and 1980s, when communities were black professional enclaves; young black families without college degrees leave. Still, the region has gained 5,000 graduates and remains largely middle-income, so there is hope.
Realistically, however, the southern lakefront will need to be redeveloped first. We cannot stress enough: what Chicago’s black community needs most is to attract more college graduates. The surest way to achieve this is to establish a bustling commercial district of Bronzeville to serve as a gateway, attracting talented kids from elsewhere and, eventually, funneling them to other South Side neighborhoods. This is what North Lakefront does for the North Side neighborhoods. Decades will pass before arriving black graduates outnumber non-college graduates leaving. But it’s the way to go, make no mistake.
Chicago is still predominantly middle class.
Some analyzes have claimed to show that Chicago’s middle class has almost disappeared, but census data indicates that these claims are exaggerated. The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan research group, defines the middle class as having a household income between two-thirds and 200% of the regional median – in the case of the Chicago metro area, between $50,000 and $149,000 for 2020. By this standard, 62% of households in the city were of average size. Income; 34% were lower; and 4% higher. Ten years earlier, the numbers were 62% average; 37% less; and 1% higher.
The citywide poverty rate – 20% in 2000 – rose to 24% in 2012 and has since fallen to 16%. The city’s median household income is still lower than that of the region, but the gap is narrowing. In 2010, the city’s median income was 77% of that of the region; in 2020, it was 83%.
In sum, we find grounds for cautious optimism. However, if the numbers tell us one thing, our eyes tell us another.