Mayor Rahm Emanuel Is Leaving Behind a Stronger Chicago Economy — But Much Work Still Needs to Be Done

The city saw an increase in wealth under Emanuel's tenure.

Politics in Chicago have gotten interesting in 2019. Back in September 2018, incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he would not run for a third term, setting in motion a mayoral race that would culminate in a general election on Feb. 26, 2019. The twist is that two candidates — Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle, both African-American women — polled very closely, forcing a runoff election on April 2, 2019.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected back in 2011, and has been serving now for eight years. In those years, Chicago has experienced a lot, such as the impact of the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the aftermath of the housing crash. In fact, despite many years passing since the crash, Chicago remains on the verge of a housing crisis.

Using the latest data from the Census Bureau, the 2017 American Community Survey, GOBankingRates analyzed changes in key economic characteristics during the years of Emanuel’s tenure.

Click to See: Other U.S. Cities in Danger of a Housing Crisis

Chicago Incomes and Wealth Have Increased

One of the simplest criteria to evaluate Chicago by is in terms of income. The city experienced an overall increase in individual and household incomes. But this general increase hides more complex changes underneath.

Per capita income increased more than household income. In 2011, income per capita in Chicago was $27,940, before rising by 16.5 percent to $32,560 in 2017. Meanwhile, median household income increased by only 10.8 percent, from $47,371 in 2011, to $52,497 in 2017.

The composition of Chicago’s households has changed substantially since 2011. The Census Bureau tracks 10 different household income ranges — for example, number of households earning $10,000 to $14,999, or households earning $100,000 to $149,999. According to the data, Chicago has seen a significant decline in the number of households earning less than $75,000.

Check Out: How Do You Stack Up to the Average Income in Your State?

Chicago20112017Change
Number of households earning less than $10,000111,760107,687-3.6%
Number of households earning $10,000 to $14,99962,67157,490-8.3%
Number of households earning $15,000 to $24,999120,536113,976-5.4%
Number of households earning $25,000 to $34,999106,83995,984-10.2%
Number of households earning $35,000 to $49,999133,017124,810-6.2%
Number of households earning $50,000 to $74,999174,536164,936-5.5%
Number of households earning $75,000 to $99,999114,044114,4280.3%
Number of households earning $100,000 to $149,999111,653132,54818.7%
Number of households earning $150,000 to $199,99945,02860,95435.4%
Number of households earning $200,000 or more50,66273,97646.0%

At the same time, wealthier households surged in number. The number of households earning $100,000 to $149,999 increased by close to 21,000 households; the number earning $150,000 to $199,999 by nearly 16,000 households; and those earning $200,000 or more increased by more than 23,000 households.

Also See: African-American Households Are Getting Richer in These U.S. Cities

Chicago Workforce Trends: Jobs Are Up — but Dip in Some Industries

Looking at the changes in the workforce reveals some interesting trends. Several industries saw a decline in employment numbers, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the total labor force.

The industries that gained or lost employees reflect overall economic trends as well as more specific events, such as the fallout from the housing crash. The construction industry declined by 8.4 percent, from 56,571 workers down to 51,813. The decline in manufacturing was more substantial, dropping by 9.9 percent, from employing 121,592 people in 2011 to 109,533 in 2017 — a loss of more than 12,000 jobs.

Workers in public administration, aka government jobs, declined by 6.1 percent from 2011 to 2017. On the flipside, the industries that gained employees mirror general national trends. For example, employment in professional, scientific and management services increased by 13.9 percent; nationally, the percent increase was 13.8 percent. Educational services, and healthcare and social assistance saw 11 percent growth in Chicago, whereas for the U.S. overall it increased by 8.9 percent.

Unemployment in Chicago improved significantly during Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s tenure. It was as high as 11 percent in July 2011, two years after the official end of the recession in June 2009. Even as late as 2013, unemployment managed to reach 10 percent in January and June of that year. Beginning in 2014, unemployment began a steady march downward, reaching 3.6 percent in December 2018, before getting a seasonal bump up to 4.4 percent in January 2019.

Thus, overall, economically Chicago has improved from where it had been in 2011 when Emanuel took office. Incomes are up, unemployment is down, but it’s important not to forget the complex picture beneath the surface. While the lower- and middle-income households evaporate, the richest households continue to grow.

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