Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Chicago Takes a Census Shellacking

I know I’ve been on a negative streak about Chicago lately, and here’s another one. But rest assured good news is coming soon, starting with a post tomorrow. I’ve got several others in the hopper, but they still need some development.

At any rate, the census results just released for Illinois were bad news for Chicago. I discuss this over at New Geography in my post “Chicago Takes a Census Shellacking.”

The city had a negative downside population surprise, losing 200,000 people and coming in well under the 2009 estimates. It particularly bled black population, but the non-Hispanic white population declined too. Hispanics increased, but Chicago actually added fewer total than Indianapolis, a city less than 1/3 its size.

More troubling is rampant exurban growth, with Cook, DuPage, and Lake all struggling a bit while places like Kendall County explode. Is it any wonder we’re broke and our traffic congestion is so bad?

Here’s the Illinois population percent change map:

Topics: Demographic Analysis
Cities: Chicago

16 Responses to “Chicago Takes a Census Shellacking”

  1. damenhandle says:

    This is terrible news. I guess all the nay-sayers were right. While there has been a very visible influx of affluent residents on the North Side and in and all around the Loop, its not enough to stop the massive losses on West and South sides. Gentrification will not solve this problem.

    I’d say crime, school, jobs, and taxes are all putting Chicago down a notch for the middle class. For a family of four, Orland Park makes so much more sense than Archer Heights. Its no competition. But what meaningful change can be made, and quickly. Chicago can’t afford these types of losses.

  2. marko says:

    One small glimmer of hope Ive seen recently is the drive to Oak Park from Downtown via Madison, a drive Ive been taking all my life. The last 2 years I did not own a car so I havent made the trip. On a recent day I had a zip car the Ike was backed up so I jumped on Madison and I was shocked. The street between Pulaski and Central looks better than it has ever in my life. Now it looks more suburban, with new drive thru’s and suburban looking grocery stores, but its the first development beyond storefront churches Ive seen in 30 years. And dare I say the new A&W looks nice? If this is what it takes to stabilize the westside I say go for it. Bring in the walmarts. A suburban Westside or southside will be better than a vacant south and westside. The population may even pick up a bit by next census.

  3. James says:

    How disappointing… So has Chicago done anything right over the span of Daley’s role?

    Housing prices fell through the floor… Foreclosures are through the roof… The city is completely bankrupt… our public schools are failing… huge swaths of the city more closely resemble detroit than people realize or want to admit… is there a single reason for genuine optimism?

  4. Roland S says:

    What does the map look like in terms of absolute population growth/loss? I’m less interested in percentages. Percentages are great if you’re comparing Cook County to say, Bureau County, but less when you’re comparing Cook to McHenry.

    Also, as I’m sure you’re well aware, the migration data is not just about the net, but about how many people moved in/moved out. How many people really decided to leave Chicago between 2000-2010? It’s got to be much higher than the net loss of 200000. Likewise, how many people moved in?

  5. Roland, I’ve got that data, but it will have to wait for a future blog post. And very soon now, I’ll be showing you how you can easily do it for yourself.

  6. the urban politician says:

    I have a lot of things to say about this.

    First and foremost: Chicago needs to take a hard look at itself. Aaron, you were 100% on top of that in many of your recent posts. Since the announcement, both the Tribune and Sun-Times have had little to say. Only Greg Hinz at Crains is exploring the implications of what should be an embarrassing blow to the city’s ego.

    Some observations/comments worth discussion:

    1) It was already reported a while back that the census for Chicago was significantly underreported, perhaps the worst in the nation. We cannot move on without recognizing this factor with a small sigh of relief. I really don’t think Chicago is actually as low as 2.695 million. Nevertheless, I don’t doubt that Chicago took a population hit.

    2) Before we take a black and white look at this (and YES, we all agree that losing 200k is bad), we need to take a look at all the trends. This will probably take months to be teased out. Buried in the bad news is some good news. The “luxury city” is booming. Some of the losses are explained by CHA demolition, some explained by a decade of very low interest rates and easy mortgages in which African Americans living in the city were able to buy suburban houses, but now we are dealing with a foreclosure crisis. Look at that data.

    3) This is an important one: The cocaine is gone. After a decade of growth (1990’s) Chicago was on a false high, assuming all of its problems of the past had been solved, and it’s back to business as usual. Not so. Time to take a really hard look at why the city isn’t growing, and how we can change that.

    Now I’m not a Tea Party advocate by any means, but it’s time to get creative. Reality is, America is changing. Newly elected Republican Governors around the country are coming in and slashing budgets. They are disrupting decades old assumptions, shaking up establishments, and making some pretty bold moves. Scott Walker’s (Wisconsin) latest assault on State employee benefits & pensions comes to mind.

    Chicago needs this. Chicago needs to get down to business and make fundamental changes like this. One suggestion that comes to mind: perform a 6 month city wide survey. Ask residents if they are seriously thinking moving out of the city in the next few years. To those who say “yes”, ask them to identify, from a list of choices, the top 2-3 factors that are leading to that choice (taxes, crime, schools, corrupt leadership, better job elsewhere, etc).

    Use the result of that survey to help lay out the next step. Chicago can even form a committee, not dissimilar to World Business Chicago, called “Grow Chicago”. It would be chaired by local business and community leaders, policy experts, etc. who would make it their mission to help grow the city’s population again. This “Grow Chicago” would meet with city leadership on a regular basis.

    Hey Chicago higher-ups, are you reading this post? I think you need to take a look at my suggestions. Either way, do something–no more shoving this problem under a rug and pretending all is swell. Far from it!

  7. damenhandle says:

    If there is as any good news, its that desegregation has finally come to Chicagoland. In many of the south, southwest, and western burbs blacks, white, asians, and hispanics are living next to each other.

    This is true in places like Bolingbrook, Naperville, Woodridge, and Orland Park. The odds of an African-American kid graduating from High School are immensely greater at a place like Downers Grove South than at any Chicago Public School on the South Side. I know of an elderly black lady living in a Naperville apartment who has taken her grandson in just so he could go to Naperville schools. His mom still lives and works on the South Side.

    The black population are doing what whites have been doing for the past 30 years. Moving to where the jobs and good schools are. Hopefully this will lead to higher education attainment rates for many of these kids, compared to the failing schools on the South Side. This is a plus for Chicagoland.

  8. Wad says:

    Urban Politician wrote: “Newly elected Republican Governors around the country are coming in and slashing budgets. They are disrupting decades old assumptions, shaking up establishments, and making some pretty bold moves.”

    I, for one, don’t read this as a positive.

    It’s doing something for the sake of doing something.

    We’re one generation removed from the Reagan Revolution, and this new generation has transformed the “government is the problem” trope and come to believe in the boogeyman.

    The U.S., at the time of this writing still a wealthy nation, did not have the crowding-out problem. One dollar of public spending is not one dollar of profit-oriented (private) spending taken away and lost forever. “Big government” has never stopped profit growth. On the contrary, non-military public investment has produced a very good multiplier effect on the private sector.

    Just as larger government has not had a detrimental effect on private profit-oriented economic growth, smaller government is no guarantee of a much larger private sector offseting the losses.

    Whatever growth occurs would be because market conditions were favorable for a rebound, so the growth would have occurred anyway. That, or, it would only restore private economic functions that were on the margins of viability due to regulations themselves. These are sectors of value so minuscule that foreign substitutes would still have a broader market advantage anyway.

  9. Ed Sanderson says:

    While the usual cry is “too much information,” I’m wondering if in this case we are dealing with “too little information.”

    Before I would be willing to talk intelligently about the ramifications of the population loss, I would like to see a graphic that depicts by census tract (or some aggregate thereof) of where the population losses and gains occurred and the demographics of said areas. I would also like to see such things as the average price of a living unit (house, condo or rental), the age and education achievment of residents of such households and average income of a household in these areas.

    I’m sure the information is there in the census data and will eventually be sussed out by demographers but for now I’m not convinced that the meanings of the crude population numbers are apparent.

  10. Eric says:

    These numbers are thought-provoking. I was a little shocked at first. The conventional wisdom heading into the release was that Chicago’s population would drop a little–I was expecting -20,000 to -80,000–largely due to the loss of 100,000 black residents. It turns out that Chicago has lost 200,000 black residents. What has changed now that we know that?

    I know how one can avoid coming off as a snob in some of these demographic discussions, so I won’t avoid it. In the ’60s Chicago was losing its wealthiest, most productive residents to the suburbs. That was bad. Chicago seems to be holding onto and attracting its “Creative Class”, but is losing its middle and lower-middle class. That’s bad too, but less bad. How can we quantify the damage? Something I honestly don’t know the answer to is what the cost/benefits are to a city of gaining or losing residents that are net consumers of services. If Chicago grew by simply annexing Gary, would it improve the city’s finances or the average quality of life of the previous residents? Is that an analogous inverse of this census number?

    I guess Chicago is a peerless, weird city in a lot of ways. They’ve been saying for a decade or so that New York, SF and Boston are “only for rich people.” It feels like Chicago is becoming that way, but maybe there aren’t quite enough rich people to create a self-perpetuating cycle. I wonder what the threshold has to be crossed? I moved here almost fifteen years ago after college. My boots-on-the-ground observation is that Chicago is a better city now than it was then in every way that I can assess. Neighborhoods that were vibrant then are more vibrant now and marginal or sub-marginal neighborhoods are now vibrant. It still blows my mind that two people I know who recently moved here from New York and Houston moved to Pilsen and Humboldt Park. That would have been completely off-radar in 1996.

    If I had to summarize Chicago demographics in thirty seconds to a casual observer, I would say that the parts of the city that *look like a city* are thriving; the parts of the city that look like an inner-ring suburb are not. The benefits in living in urban-Chicago are obvious. It’s walkable with an amazing collection of restaurants, festivals, parks and shopping. If you don’t care about or take advantage or can’t afford those amenities, why live in the far southwest side when you can get a bigger, cheaper place elsewhere? What are the advantages to a family making $40,000 a year to staying in the city?

  11. Wad says:

    Eric wrote: Something I honestly don’t know the answer to is what the cost/benefits are to a city of gaining or losing residents that are net consumers of services.

    Consumption of services isn’t necessarily bad themselves. You would want residents of any demographic profile to be consumers of libraries, parks, schools, roads, buses, trains and health facilities.

    You don’t want residents to be consumers of police resources and incarceration facilities.

    The first category offers economic multipliers that more than offset their costs, and have positive externalities for all residents. The second category is the reverse.

  12. Alon Levy says:

    Question: does the 2010 census figures’ methodology address the concerns that the census undercounts inner cities? If not, then the only conclusion we can draw from this is that Chicago will get less representation in Congress than it’s entitled to.

  13. Ed says:

    The city is adding wealthy residents and losing poor residents.

    Why exactly is this somehow a bad thing?

  14. Thanks for the comments.

    Alon, I don’t know what if any improvements were made over Census 2000, but I can’t believe it got any worse. So I’d suggest the change is real even if the numbers may be off. And there are things that help explain it, such as the demolition of over 100,000 units of public housing.

    TUP, good observations. As I posted today, the global city of Chicago (it’s greater central core and selected suburbs) have enormous advantages that will keep them strong. It’s the left behind areas where we’ve really got to get creative and focus.

  15. ds says:

    This is very bad news. No amount of spin can change that. Without a doubt, the population decline is leaving the city poorer and in worse shape.

    The big problem here is that it seems almost impossible to arrest or reverse significant population decline once it begins in a neighborhood. If you look at the “revitalized” neighborhood success stories, from Lincoln Park in the 70s-80s, Wicker Park in the 80s-90s and places like Humbolt Park today, they all have two things in common: none of them had experienced significant depopulation and abandonment prior to gentrification, and none of these areas were predominately African-American. In fact, most of these areas actually lost population over the course of their “revitalization”.

    The only example I can think of which did not entirely follow this trend is the Cabrini-Green area. But behind this turnaround was an extraordinarily large public investment which we are unlikely to see again in the economic and political climate of our times.

    I don’t see what much can be done about this. You can go all-in with Wal-Marts, strip malls and the like to bring forth better shopping alternatives. You see a lot of this already on Roosevelt Road and North Avenue, and perhaps further development along these lines might help arrest the decay. But these areas are just fundamentally unfit for that style of development. Traffic quickly becomes a major issue which chokes further development. And much of the new development simply replaces other businesses. On the north side, a new Target puts the mom and pop grocer below the three-flat out of business, but then a new restaurant or bar quickly fills it in. But on the West Side, there is nothing to take the place of the local food mart that Wal-Mart puts out of business. Incomes are too low to support the trendy, boutique shopping areas you see on the north side, and the original built environment has decayed to such an extent that many spaces are simply un-replaceable. You might get a few “urban cowboys” to move in, but the bottom line is that these people are mostly white and white people still aren’t ready to move into black neighborhoods.

    The headwinds running against the city are strong. Policies at the Federal and State level both conspire against denser, transit-oriented development which benefits existing environments. Poor economic and trade policy have left our economy with a chronic demand shortage and spiraling inequality. 6 million manufacturing jobs have been lost in the past 10 years alone, 2 million of which have come from the Great Lakes region. And Illinois loses a quarter for every dollar it pays in Federal taxes, ranking it 45th amongst the 50 states.

    Perhaps even the best of minds could do nothing to stop this at the local level. But with that said, the city most likely needs to start by changing the way its government works. We need alderman who can think beyond the boundaries of their communities, who understand and have a voice in city-wide issues. Paying 50 sheeple $150,000 each to show up to city hall, rubber stamp the Mayor’s agenda, and carry pork back to their own wards does nothing to facilitate innovation. And 20 years is too long for one Mayor to serve. We all know this.

    Whatever the case may be, this should be the defining issue of the Mayoral campaign. Who really cares about pipe dream ideas like persuading Morgan Stanley to give us back our parking meters? If the next mayor presides over a period of population growth for the city, his or her term will have been a success.

  16. alki says:

    Chicago has a terrible image. If anyone has watched AC360 in the last two years, they would know that Chicago teens are killing themselves at a frightening rate and that at least 50% of male students of color drop out and don’t graduate high school. What makes anyone think a few new shiny buildings downtown will overcome those negatives?

    Chicago is stuck in some kind of time warp pre 1980 where they believe a vibrant downtown overshadows the rot in the rest of the city. Until Chicago works to improve its school system and upgrade the quality of life for its poorest residents, conditions will worsen, not improve….and Chicago will continue to lose people.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.



Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Click here for copyright information and disclosures