Chicago’s legacy of segregation has long made it a tale of two cities, but three recent reports show how far apart those cities have become.
A report released Tuesday by the Brookings Institution shows that of the nation’s largest metro areas, Chicago has the greatest racial disparity in young adult employment rates.
Among 20- to 24-year-olds, the Chicago area’s employment rate is 47 percent for blacks, the lowest among the big cities, and 73 percent for whites, which is among the highest. Only Philadelphia comes close to that gap, with a 48 percent employment rate for blacks and 66 percent for whites.
Chicago’s employment rate for Latinos, at 70 percent, is much higher than that of Philadelphia’s, at 60 percent.
The report said black young adults in the Chicago area are seven times more likely than white young adults to be not working or going to school, a group known as “disconnected” youth. Such young people are feared to be at increased risk for a host of negative outcomes including long spells of unemployment, poverty, criminal behavior, substance abuse and incarceration.
Nearly a quarter of black 20- to 24-year-olds in the Chicago area are disconnected from work and school, compared with 3.3 percent of whites, the widest gap among the large metro areas, according to the report. The rate is 6.6 percent among Latinos and 2.2 percent among Asians in Chicago in that age group.
Only Philadelphia and Los Angeles come close to such a stark black-white racial gap, with their disconnection rates nearly 20 percent for black young adults and about 3 percent for whites.
The Brookings report comes a week after the Economic Policy Institute put out a study showing Illinois had the worst unemployment rate for blacks in the nation in the first quarter of 2016, exceeding the District of Columbia for the second quarter in a row. Illinois’ black unemployment rate was 14.1 percent, which compares with 5 percent for whites in the state. In the District of Columbia, the black unemployment rate was 12.7 percent.
Also last week, the National Urban League released an equality index that ranked the Chicago metro area 65th out of 70 in black-white unemployment equality; the Cleveland and Milwaukee metro areas ranked worse. Chicago also ranked 62nd out of 70 in black-white income equality, a drop from last year.
Chicago’s highly segregated residential patterns feed high concentrations of poverty and the conditions that lead to wide black-white employment divisions and disconnection among youth, said Martha Ross, co-author of the Brookings report
In poor areas, “their family and community networks to help them find jobs are weaker, they have lower levels of education, not as much support and knowledge about how to navigate the process to go to college or post-secondary education,” Ross said.
The report estimates 3 million 16- to 24-year-olds nationally are not in school nor working, including about 82,000 in the Chicago metro area, and the vast majority are in the 20- to 24-year-old age group.
Those estimates are lower than prior reports that put the number over 5 million because the Brookings researchers used narrower parameters to define “disconnected” in order to zero in on the most at-risk youth. They only counted 16- 24-year-olds who have less than an associate’s degree, are living below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, are not in the armed forces and not living in group quarters.
By contrast, the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which in a report this year put the out of work/out of school rate at 41 percent for black young adults, counted everyone not working and not enrolled in school.
Although, by population, Chicago ranks third in the nation for the number of disconnected youth, and its racial gap is widest, the Brookings report found its overall rate is not as bad as many other cities.
Some 9.3 percent of Chicago’s 20- to 24-year-olds are disconnected, just below the national average of 9.9 percent, according to the report, while other big cities, including Houston, Phoenix, Miami and Atlanta, exceed the national average. The metro areas with the highest rates of disconnection among young adults are McAllen, Texas, at 18.4 percent, followed by Fresno, Calif.; Bakersfield, Calif.; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Lakeland, Fla.
McAllen ranks worst in the nation on nearly all youth employment indicators, likely because of its weak economy and its population’s low education levels, Ross said. Employers don’t bring jobs there because of the unskilled labor force and people with higher skills and education leave because there are no good jobs there.
The metro area with the lowest rate of young adult disconnection is Madison, Wis., at 2.4 percent, followed by San Jose, Calif.; Boston; Provo, Utah; and Bridgeport, Conn.
While the racial gaps in employment rates are striking, the educational disparities are even larger. Nationally, the employment rate among young adults with a bachelor’s degree is 87 percent in 2014, compared with 66 percent among those with only a high school diploma and 52 percent among those who didn’t graduate from high school.
“In a glass-half full sort of way, that points to a lever for change, because people can increase their educational attainment and their skills,” Ross said.
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