A Just Transition For Chicago

by Taylor Gendel

Frontline organizations have been working to advance a just transition, and local policy such as Illinois’s Clean Energy Jobs Act provide opportunities to push this work to the forefront.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) hopes to build on the success of 2016’s Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) by building on this unique moment to help Illinois create “long-term answers to the public health and economic challenges posed by the novel coronavirus”. The passing of CEJA would expand the clean energy economy. Some of the proposed methods for this transition include:

  • Creating Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs, a network of frontline organizations that provide direct and sustained support for minority and disadvantaged communities, including job opportunities
  • Prioritizing companies that implement equity actions to ensure equitable representation in Illinois’ clean energy workforce
  • Creating a Contractor Incubator program that focuses on the development of underserved businesses in the clean energy sector
  • Creating Clean Energy Empowerment Zones to support communities and workers who are economically impacted by the decline of fossil fuel generation

The expansion of the clean energy sector can also contribute to correcting the long-standing environmental damages in many of the communities that experience high unemployment; producing benefits for both individuals and communities. A recent study by the Voorhees Center finds there has been a higher growth rate of jobs in Clean Energy Production, Energy Efficiency, and Environmental Management in our region than the overall economy. Further, clean energy economy jobs pay an average of 9 percent more than other jobs, and have the potential to increase the inclusion of people of color and women in the workforce.

This potential for growth suggests that the transition to a clean energy economy could help address economic inclusion challenges on the local level, as the current roster of workers in related occupations is far from inclusive. The existence of distinct barriers to access require additional attention and action.

How can we begin to advocate for clean energy jobs here in Chicago? The proposed “We Will Chicago” initiative aims to focus on equity, diversity and resiliency. One primary focus will be on the environment, climate and energy. Planners and residents should have opportunities to engage in community conversations and push for ideas like clean energy jobs and a just transition – in hopes of a more sustainable and equitable future.

A Just Transition For Us All

by Taylor Gendel

As we navigate these trying times, instead of yearning to “go back to normal”, what if we reimagined a new future? A future that is equitable, sustainable, and just?

solar panel
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A just transition is “an intentional shift toward a society in which the economy and the environment can thrive simultaneously, with social structures in place to make sure equity takes priority in the process as well as the outcome.”.

This pandemic has allowed for reflection, both within ourselves and systemically, and a critical examination of the status quo. If we want to make a just transition, now is the time.

The potential for that transition comes with the new President-elect’s Climate Plan, which proposes striving for a 100% clean energy economy by 2050, and includes innovations specifically targeting communities most impacted by climate change.

An October report from BW Research Partnership for Environmental Entrepreneurs, found that clean energy jobs paid 25% more than the national median. The report also found that there are about three times more workers in clean energy industries than fossil fuels and that clean energy jobs are available in every state. These jobs have better benefits, and have the potential to increase the inclusion of people of color and women in the workforce. However, recent analysis by the Brookings Institution concludes that “(m)aximizing the impact of Biden’s climate plan (or any national plan) depends on clear worker definitions, targeted workforce investments, and strong local collaborations.”

Locally, a just transition will require active planning and investment in the clean energy landscape. Our next post will look at this landscape in more detail, focusing on the Chicago clean energy economy.

Census Sees Disproportionate Response Rate

by Taylor Gendel and Karen Yates

The U.S. census is underway, and at the UIC Voorhees Center, efforts to target hard-to-count (HTC) populations have been a priority. Some of these populations include students, homeless, elderly, and reentering citizens. “According to the framework for hard-to-count populations developed by federal agencies, hard-to-count populations can be people who are hard to interview because their participation is hindered by language barriers, low literacy, and lack of internet access.”

Black and brown communities in Chicago are reporting lower response rates not only Census RR Voorhees Blog V2due to these HTC factors, but also widespread mistrust of the government, the early threatening of a citizenship question, ongoing ICE raids, and current economic stressors. To add to these obstacles, HTC population response rate difficulty has been exacerbated due to COVID-19.

Where are these communities that are reporting low response rates? In our Three Cities study, City Three was identified to contain the largest area (nearly half of the city) and has experienced a stark transformation in concentrated wealth and poverty. In 2016, more than half of City Three residents earned less than $35,000 and a third earned less than $20,000 – a per capita income decrease of over 20% since 1970. We have found large overlaps between these populations, low census response rates, and the communities hardest hit by COVID-19.

3 citiesAs census data collection has now moved up a month to close at the end of September, we urge widespread participation via website, phone, or mail. The political ramifications of being undercounted are serious. The results of the census are used to direct billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities for health care, emergency response, schools, education programs, roads, and other public services. It is also directly tied to political representation. Illinois is at risk of losing one to two seats in the House of Representatives due to decreasing population and high undercounts of HTC populations.

As of August 24th, just 57.9% of Chicago residents had responded to the 2020 census. To address this, the UIC Voorhees Center has created outreach resource toolkits for local census partners to reach hard-to-count populations.

The deep-rooted systemic inequalities in Chicago are reflected in the 2020 census responses, but time isn’t up yet. We still have 35 days to report in the census!

Three Cities: Moving Beyond the Barriers

By Taylor Gendel and Dr. Janet Smith

As our Three Cities study shows, Chicago has grown more segregated by income over time. Efforts to change this have been proposed in light COVID-19 and events following the death of George Floyd. We review here the racial and economic divisions that need to be acknowledged and addressed through serious investment of public and private resources.

Three Cities by Race

Three Cities Breakdown by Race, 2016 data

Racial disparities. While City Three is the most diverse (no racial group composes more than half the population), City One is the most racially homogenous (more than two-thirds of current residents are White). City Two, which is predominantly White, is mixed (1/4 Black and 2/5 Latino).

3 cities no textIncome Disparities. In City Three, where the majority of Chicago’s African American population live, more than half earned less than $35,000 and 1/3 earned less than $20,000 in 2016. In contrast, in City One 45% of the white population earned more than $100,000. In fact, within Chicago overall, nearly 70% of households earning more than $100,000 were white, while more than half of households earning less than $20,000 were African American.

Health Disparities. As our previous blog shows, Covid-19 has reproduced and amplified these disparities. Over the past few months, elected officials and planners (among others) have acknowledged the disproportionate share of coronavirus deaths in predominantly black and brown communities. Due to this disparity, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has shifted Invest South/West’s priorities to meet the need for better health care facilities on the South and West Sides.


Reducing Disparities. In order for the city’s plan for investment in the South and West sides to have the most impact, these demographic disparities must be considered and prioritized. We must recognize how policy and practice continue to reinforce these divisions. This was evident during the protests and unrest in early June when a “Reduced Traffic Zone” was established, creating a barricade ostensibly protecting City One by blocking access. This kind of decision-making conflicts with the calls for investment outside of the central business district even as the mayor states that there “…is no way we would ever let any neighborhood receive more resources and protection than any others”.

The new Recovery Task Force’s Advisory Report sets the stage for meaningful investment to help eliminate inequities as we work through continued protests for change and COVID-19 recovery in Chicago.

Navigating a Pandemic in Chicago’s Three Cities

3 citiesBy Taylor Gendel and Dr. Janet Smith

The Nathalie P. Voorhees Center Three Cities study analyzed change in income in the seven-county Chicago Metropolitan Region from 1970-2016, assessing each Census Tract’s average per capita income relative to the region at different points in time. As our study illustrated, Chicago has grown more segregated by income over time and continues to lose its middle class.

How does this segregation of income affect populations experiencing and navigating a pandemic?


Vulnerability to Disease. The UIC Urban Data Visualization Lab (UDVL) created a COVID -19 map that shows where populations most affected by the disease live relative to the location of health facilities. It is no surprise that many of these vulnerabilities fall within what our Three Cities study calls “City 3” – the communities where there has been a steady decrease in income over decades (20% or more). These areas tend to contain both a higher concentration of vulnerable populations including seniors, nursing home residents, homeless and lower access to health facilities.

Vulnerability to the Impact. A second UDVL map shows where populations most vulnerable to the economic impacts of the disease live, such as low-income residents, in relation to small businesses. While many small businesses in Chicago are clustered in City 1, areas with low poverty levels and that have seen income increase 20% or more since 1970, the map also shows small businesses in City 2 and City 3 where a large number of people have been infected by COVID-19. Many of these businesses that were likely struggling before the pandemic are now dealing with the impact of disease on residents and shelter-in-place orders aimed at reducing the spread of disease.

What do these maps say about the location of resources within our city?

Screen Shot 2020-07-27 at 3.15.56 PM

Total per capita COVID-19 deaths by Chicago neighborhood (as of 7.27.2020) Source: Bea Malsky for South Side Weekly

Our most vulnerable communities not only face poverty and income segregation but are now also the most vulnerable to a deadly virus. Investment from the city, as proposed in the Chicago Recovery Task Force report, can help change this if resources go to short term support for residents and businesses hardest hit. But investment is also needed to build the necessary infrastructure, such as healthcare facilities and small businesses, in order to more equitably distribute resources throughout our Three Cities.

General Iron Move to Southeast Side Triggers Racial Equity Concerns

By Nicholas Zettel and Jessica Kursman

Scrap metal shredder General Iron has announced they are are moving from their current Lincoln Park site to a proposed site bordering the South Deering and Hegewisch community areas in 2020. The move would disproportionately impact Latinos, single female mothers, children under 18, elderly individuals over 65, and low-income residents.

The move coincides with developer Sterling Bay’s proposed Lincoln Yards project, which is transforming the near-north side’s Planned Manufacturing District from its historic industrial landscape into a mix of residential, commercial, and entertainment uses.

In a recent Chicago Tribune article, General Iron’s crisis communications specialist, Randall Samborn, cited the smaller population surrounding the proposed site to suggest that General Iron will be farther from residents. According to the Samborn, about 6,800 people live within a mile of the Southeast Side site, compared with about 47,500 who live that close to the scrap shredder’s current operation west of Clybourn Avenue between North Avenue and Cortland Street.”

While it is true that residential uses surrounding the proposed Lake Calumet site are less dense than those in Lincoln Park, this narrative overlooks the differences in the populations of the proposed Southeast site and the current Lincoln Park location. When compared with the existing Lincoln Park site, residents living within one mile from the proposed site are more likely to be identified as Latino; under the age of 18; older than age 65; and a female-headed householder with children present.

Latino and Low-Income Residents Disproportionately Impacted

Residents identified as Latino will be more impacted by the proposed General Iron site than any other demographic group. Within a one mile radius of the proposed General Iron site, more than 67 percent of the population is identified as Hispanic or Latino, compared to approximately 10 percent of the population within a mile radius of the existing Lincoln Park site*.

The proposed General Iron site is also within a neighborhood with notably lower incomes than the current site. The Lincoln Park site household income is $69,000 –more than three times that near the proposed Southeast side site ($20,000).

 HL_GeneralIron [Converted]

Female Headed Households and Youth Disproportionately Impacted

Additionally, female residents and young residents are disproportionately represented near the proposed site. Specifically, within a one mile radius of the existing General Iron site, slightly more than 15% of residents are younger than age-18, while nearly 27% of residents within one mile of the Lake Calumet site are younger than 18 years old.

 U18_GeneralIron [Converted]

Furthermore, single-female households will be disproportionately affected by the move. An estimated 30 percent of Southeast side households within a mile radius of the proposed General Iron site are female-headed households with people under age-18 present. In contrast, approximately 5 percent of households surrounding the Lincoln Park site are headed by single women.

Table.pngSource: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, Five-Year Estimates, 2012-2016; ESRI ArcGIS 10.5.1.

Land Use and Vulnerable Populations in the Calumet Region

The proposed move offers an opportunity to consider specific population needs of young and elderly residents, residents living in poverty, and single-parent households. Furthermore, the move illuminates a greater conversation of environmental and racial equity as it pertains to land use and zoning in the Calumet Region.

*U.S. Census American Community Survey 2012-2016 estimates

Proposed CPS Budget Reveals Geographic Disparities in Investment

By Jeffrey Wozencraft, Jessica Kursman, and Nick Zettel

As part of our ongoing research on growing income inequality in Chicago entitled “Who Can Live in Chicago?”, the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center investigated Chicago Public Schools investment into schools by ward since 2013. This is a follow-up to our blog on age distribution that found that majority of young people in Chicago are non-white and living in lower income communities. When looking at the location of schools with unmet capital investment needs, the data suggests these same communities and young people are likely attending schools with the most unmet needs.

Key findings include:

According to annual CPS budget data and the CPS 2013 Needs Assessment – the most recent publicly available needs assessment of all facility needs – there appears to be geographic disparities in how 2013-2018 budget appropriations have been made to meet investment needs by ward.

The 2019 proposed budget continues to demonstrate a mismatch between budgeted priorities and actual investment need by ward (See Map and Table Below). For example, when including the CPS 2019 proposed budget, data shows that Ward 8 in the Chatham Community Area has only received just 9% of its investment needs, while investment in Ward 41 in the Northwest Chicago has received 135% of its investment needs.

Applying race and income to this investment analysis deepens the conversation of disparity.

For instance, according to the Chicago Rehab Network’s 2014 Affordable Housing Factbook, Ward 8 has a population that is over 70% Black and has a median household income of less than $40,000 a year. In contrast, Ward 41 is majority white, and has a median household income of $68,000.

The 2019 proposed budget is the largest budget released in the past 5 years. Yet, the last publicly available CPS Needs Assessment, which has a detailed analysis of all facilities, was conducted in 2013. Without an updated needs assessment that captures current total need for investment in school facilities, it is impossible to gauge whether the 2019 Budget is accurately prioritizing its investment – whether by ward or school. This, obviously, has profound implications for our city’s children and communities.




Photo by Jessica Kursman

Who Can Live in Chicago? Part II: Age

By Jessica Kursman, Nicholas Zettel, and Jeffrey Wozencraft 

Our last blog post mapped out the change in spatial distribution of income between 1970-2016 and found three distinct “cities” within the City of Chicago:

  • City One includes all Census Tracts that increased their proportion of regional income by 20 percent (622,099 people);
  • City Two includes all Census Tracts that increased or decreased their proportion of regional income by less than 20 percent (770,277 people); and
  • City Three includes all Census Tracts that decreased their proportion of regional income by 20 percent (1,344,751 people);

As we illustrated, Chicago is growing more segregated by income over time. And it appears, so too by age. For instance, of the more than 673,000 people 19 years or younger, 59% live in City Three.


Most young people in Chicago live in lower income communities of color.

City Three is predominantly non-white and young, with the largest population of individuals (394,175) under the age of 20. This accounts for nearly 60% of all young people in Chicago. When broken out by race/ethnicity, 48% of these young people are Latino and 41% are Black. In contrast, only 7% are White and 3% Asian.

City Three Age by Race


By comparison, City One is home to nearly 104,000 people under the age of 20 – about a fourth of the number of young people in City Three. In stark dissimilitude to City Three, 50% are White, while only 17% are Black and 20% Latino.



Most older people in Chicago live in lower income communities of color.

Just as young people are concentrated in City Three, so too are older people. In Chicago, nearly half of individuals 65 and over live in City Three. Of this group, 51% are Black, 24% are White, and 20% are Latino. City One, again, is very different with only 19 percent of Chicago’s population individuals 65 and over. Of these individuals, 57% are White, 18% are Black, 13% are Latino, and 7% are Asian.
City Three 65




In sum, City Three is by and large home to a lot of young people and a large aging adult population, while City One has only a small fraction of each. What City One does have is a predominance of White and Asian millennials. Of all millennials in City One, 70% are White. Furthermore, over a quarter of City One’s entire population is White and between the ages of 20-34, comprising the largest age and racial cohort in all of City One. Finally, of all Asians living in City One, nearly half are millennials.

These data raise several policy questions, including the distribution of educational resources across Chicago.

For example, how do age disparities throughout the City affect access to education? Previous research has shown a correlation between rapidly rising home prices and school closures due to under-enrollment.

Additionally, how does the geographic investment in school infrastructure in Chicago align with where young people predominantly live? A recent WBEZ report shows disproportionate spending on school infrastructure in City One when compared to City Three, while another report shows a backlog of investment in City Three.

Stay tuned for our next blog, where we will take a look at housing cost burden across our three cities.


Who Can Live in Chicago? Part I

By Jessica Kursman and Nick Zettel

In celebration of our 40th anniversary, and in response to the growing income inequality in Chicago, the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center is working to answer the question “Who Can Live in Chicago?”. We will be releasing a series of forthcoming reports on income inequality to unpack this question. Below please find a prelude to our research: 

Who Can Live in Chicago?

The Nathalie P. Voorhees Center analyzed change in income in the seven-county Chicago Metropolitan Region from 1970-2016, assessing each Census Tract’s average per capita income relative to the region at different points in time. As this map illustrates, Chicago is growing more segregated by income over time and losing its middle class.

The following animated GIF below displays a time lapse sequence of change in average individual income by decadal increments, between the years 1970-2016.


We followed the University of Toronto Three Cities methodology to map out the spatial distribution of wealth over time to identify three distinct cities:

  • City One includes all Census Tracts that increased their proportion of regional income by 20 percent (622,099 people);
  • City Three includes all Census Tracts that decreased their proportion of regional income by 20 percent (1,344,751 people); and
  • City Two includes all Census Tracts that did not increase or decrease their proportion more or less than 20 percent (770,277 people).

Three Cities_RedYellowBlue

Using the three cities, we then looked at race, income by race, age and families.


Race Demographics

Between the years 2010-2016*, City One gained over 43,000 white individuals and lost over 5,000 African American individuals. In stark contrast, City Three’s African American population decreased by nearly 60,000 individuals, and City Two’s African American population decreased by nearly 16,000 individuals.

Income by Race

These trends become even more important to watch when we look at income. In 2016, more than one-third of City Three’s African American population earned less than $20,000, and more than half earned less than $35,000. In City One, 45% of the white population earned more than $100,000. In fact, within Chicago overall, nearly 70% of households earning more than $100,000 were white, while more than half of households earning less than $20,000 were African American.


Age is unevenly distributed across Chicago. City One has the largest share of residents between the ages 20 and 34. The majority of City Two residents are between ages 35 and 64 while City Three is predominantly composed of young people under 19.


Between 2010 and 2016, City Two and City Three lost more than 47,000 families with children under 18, while City One gained more 5,500 families with children under 18. Still, City Two and City Three contain many more families (506,000+) with children under 18 in comparison to City One (90,000+). Additionally, both cities Two and Three contain many large families in Chicago. More than one-third of families in City Two are comprised of four or more people, while almost half of families in City Three are comprised of four or more people. In contrast, half of City One is families with only two people.

What do you think?

We would like to hear your thoughts on what these data suggest to you. Please take a few minutes to answer a few questions (anonymously of course).

Stay tuned…there will be more coming soon!

* 2010 and 2016 represent American Community Survey (ACS) five-year estimates. 2010 represents ACS five year estimates from 2006-2010. 2016 represents ACS five-year estimates from 2012-2016. The Voorhees Center used five-year estimates in accordance with the U.S. Census Bureau recommendation for precision and analyzing Census tracts.

** The US Census defines a family as a group of two people or more (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together; all such people (including related subfamily members) are considered as members of one family.

The Chicago Region is a Leader in Food and Beverage Production

by Zafer Sonmez

Chicago has a storied economic reputation for manufacturing, transportation, and distribution, but did you know that the Chicago Region is also a leader in the food and beverage industry? This blog post examines the employment and occupations trends in the food and beverage manufacturing industry [1] in the Chicago Region,[2] and compares them with the top 10 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs).[3] The most current employment estimates released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that the Chicago Region ranks first in food and beverage manufacturing [4] in terms of employment in 2016 (Fig 1).[5] A historical analysis of employment levels shows that the region has been in the top position along with the Los Angeles Region for the last ten years. With 1,379 business establishments, the industry currently employs over 56,000 people, making it the second largest manufacturing sector in terms of employment (after fabricated metal manufacturing). Continue reading