The Chicago Urban League has unveiled a 7-month study stating that black Chicagoans are the “largest source of untapped economic potential” in which the city must invest in in order to compete in the global marketplace.

The study was presented in February at a press conference at the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank. Titled the Futures Study, it was conducted in conjunction with the Global Business Network, a consulting firm. It stated that educational achievement and entrepreneurship are necessary to allow Cook County’s black citizens to move up the economic ladder.

The area encompasses the largest black population of any county in the nation – 1.4 million in total. But its high school dropout rate hovers around 50 percent. Cook County also has an unemployment rate of 17 percent, according to the report.

“This study also helps develop a road map to create pathways for a community that will dramatically impact the region’s economic prosperity,” said Cheryle Jackson, CEO and president of the Chicago Urban League.

The study recommends a seven-point plan. That includes an increase in state funding for public schools, and partnerships allowing students to transition into growth sectors of the economy. Another point involves increasing funding to rehabilitate at-risk juveniles, in addition to relying on churches to help sustain business growth.

The average household income for black people in Chicago, explained David Thigpen, the Chicago Urban League’s vice president of policy and research, is approximately $23,000.

“Chicago can be the black Wall Street,” Jackson added, alluding to the “symbiotic” relationship between the city’s black residents and its ability to succeed in an international market increasingly competing with the United States. By stimulating black-owned businesses, she said, Chicago would be more apt to attract events such as the 2016 Olympics.

Education a key to success

A Nielsen Co. opinion poll of approximately 500 black Chicagoans in business, academics, government and community leadership underscored the study’s findings. Fifty-six percent of the respondents said a better quality of education is the most important factor in economic success. Meanwhile, 68 percent said a stable home was the most important factor in achieving academic success.

“I’m not surprised that in an African-American community, people focus on education as the ticket to success,” said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), who taught high school history for a decade before entering politics. “We have to figure out how to transfer that recognition into a performance reality – and we’re a long way from that, particularly for African American males.”

“We’ve got to get them into high school and get them through high school,” she added, “and help them to graduate because they are lost if they don’t have a high school diploma.”

Rufus Williams, president of the Chicago Public School Board, said the board is making dramatic shifts in educational policy in order to stimulate graduation rates and student achievement.

“We’re doing some pretty draconian things,” explained Williams. “We’re changing the environment by adding in more programs, adding in more Saturday schools and really driving the rigor so that the children are better prepared.”

The study was enhanced with research by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.- based think thank, which reports that Chicago’s workforce will be changing dramatically in he next 25 years with 51 million people expected to retire.

According to the Brookings Institution, blacks and Hispanic workers will grow from 25 percent of the working-age population to 40 percent by 2025.