Report Highlights Struggles in Chicago's Segregated Communities

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great Migration—the 54-year period during which millions of blacks migrated from the rural South to the urban North.

But, a new report from the Chicago Urban League—founded that same year —says many blacks still live in racially segregated and impoverished neighborhoods.

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Brandis Friedman: This report from the Chicago Urban League examines the impact that decades of segregation and poverty have had on the people who call these 19 African-American communities home.

Shari Runner, Chicago Urban League: Take a look back 100 years ago, where people were funneled when they came to the city of Chicago. We have some of the same communities are African American communities now. The study that we’ve done identifies 19 communities out of 30 that are primarily African American– and we look at them as being some of the most underserved communities in the city of Chicago. Why does that exist? Because it’s been allowed to exist.

Friedman: Over the course of the Great Migration and into the time of the Civil Rights movement, the community began to spread from the Black Belt across the South and West Sides. But segregation and concentrations of poverty remained.

Stephanie Bechteler, Chicago Urban League: We started very government sanctioned, if you will, -- policies and practices that promoted segregation. Where we talk about redlining, being a key part of that, where we draw lines around certain areas, and that’s where you could live and this is where you could not live. We don’t have to do that to that direct degree anymore. But we certainly have proxies for that, proxies being those things that are not codified laws that prevent you from living in a certain area. But we shift and move to maintain the spirit of that law, the spirit of segregation.

Friedman: One of those policies was predatory mortgage lending in African American communities. And when the housing market crashed in 2008, African American communities suffered the worst, and the recovery has been the slowest.

For example, in the Austin community, there were more than 18,000 mortgages written during the peak period from 2005 to 2007. When the market went into recovery after the crash from 2012 to 2015, there were only 3,200 mortgages written – an 82 percent decline, compared to a citywide decline of 64 percent.

Bechteler: We’re still seeing some of the fallout of that. These are communities that when big changes to the economy happen, they hit these communities the worst.

Friedman: Today, poverty in these communities ranges from 44 to 76 percent. Unemployment ranges from 20 to 71 percent – well above the city’s 14 percent unemployment rate.

Runner:  We have 47 percent of our African American young men unemployed. Unemployment is a core issue. Joblessness is a core issue. Poor education is a core issue. Violence is a symptom of what’s going on in our community. It has to be a public-private partnership. It cannot just be focused on the government. The government is not doing what we need it to do to help save our communities.

Friedman: The Urban League hopes this report, and other to follow, will inspire policymakers and the non-profit and corporate communities to action.

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