No resource is untouched by economic inequality

By Editorial Board

Economic and racial inequality in Chicago damage all aspects of life for those it touches, an investigation released Oct. 25 reveals.

The Chicago Tribune published its investigation of water rates, showing that predominantly black and low-income communities pay more than wealthier, whiter communities for Lake Michigan water. Poor infrastructure and lack of accountability from public officials contribute to these disparities, according to the report. 

Chicago is no stranger to disturbing economic and racial inequality and its lasting effects. The city is still one of the most segregated cities in the country, a divide that stems from a history of systemic discrimination including infamous “redlining.”

Redlining was a discriminatory housing practice dating back to the 1930s that prohibited integration by denying black residents home loans, which blocked investment in black neighborhoods. The practice’s powerful effects are still felt today. Although the 1968 Fair Housing Act made housing discrimination like redlining illegal, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago have found that racial segregation, disparities in homeownership and credit scores are the lasting effects communities still face due to the practice. 

The city’s use of tax incremental financing funds is another way the city disregards the needs of struggling neighborhoods. TIF money is taken from residents’ property taxes and is supposed to be used for economic development in the city’s struggling areas. However, TIF money is often used in matters for which such funding is less than necessary. A July 21 investigation by the Better Government Association and Crain’s Chicago Business found $55 million in TIF funds was used for renovations to Navy Pier.

This is not just an issue forneighborhood activists; the entire city must push for progress to make resources accessible. 

In 2005, 21.3 percent of Chicagoans lived in poverty, according to the Illinois Poverty Summit’s 2007 report. Eleven years later, the poverty rate stubbornly continues to affect people’s lives—hovering at a rate of 22.3 percent, according to July 2016 U.S. Census data. With a long list of resources to which low-income communities are denied equal access in the city, including public transportation, Chicago has failed to significantly improve the state of disadvantaged communities.

Because of Chicago’s extreme segregation by race and class, residents in wealthy neighborhoods are insulated from the realities of life thousands of people in Englewood or Austin and other poor communities experience. To combat such disparity in Chicago, residents in higher-income neighborhoods must be aware of the obstacles their neighbors face on a daily basis and engage in programs to help those in these communities.

While charitable initiatives are admirable, substantial change will not come until local officials stand up for disenfranchised communities, but the whole city has a responsibility to seek ways to equalize access to resources. Those with the privilege of living in more affluent areas have the power to influence such a movement.

When confronting disparity, solidarity that crosses class lines is vital.