Chicago’s West Side has been robbed of equitable investment for generations — and it has left legacy Lawndale residents with little economic opportunity, according to a new study.
The report from University of Illinois Chicago’s Great Cities Institute used data and community input to identify key patterns that contribute to the neighborhood’s economic strife. West Side neighborhood leaders presented the findings at a City Club panel discussion April 25.
The research was produced for the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation to help neighborhood groups plan ways to fix quality-of-life issues like the health disparities, joblessness and lack of homeownership opportunities caused by historic policies rooted in racism. The study will support the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council’s 2018 quality-of-life plan aimed at coordinating locally-driven strategies for responding to those issues, said Richard Townsell, executive director of the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation.
“That plan needed something, though. We needed data. We needed to see trends and analyze the things we weren’t even aware of,” Townsell said.
Researchers found $124 million leaks out of Lawndale each year, seriously impeding community wealth building, said Teresa Cordova, director of the Great Cities Institute. That loss occurs through workers who live outside the neighborhood but earn money within Lawndale, or when “residents in the community must spend their money outside the community for basic necessities,” Cordova said.
Insufficient wages, a lack of business centers and shopping areas, and a “minimum availability of goods and services in North Lawndale,” all make it more difficult for Lawndale to generate and benefit from its economic engines, Cordova said.
“You want dollars circulating through your community. If those dollars are leaving … there are conditions created by the absence of that wealth,” Cordova said.
To keep dollars circulating in the community, the city should fast-track investments and infrastructure projects in economic centers that will make entrepreneurs confident that Lawndale is a viable place to do business, said Rodney Brown, CEO of New Covenant Community Development Corporation.
“We have to have the amenities in place that the community determines they want in place,” Brown said.
While the median income in most neighborhoods have increased since the ’80s, North Lawndale incomes declined by about $4,000 after accounting for inflation, the report shows.
The decline in incomes has to do with access to education and jobs, Cordova said. Most of the 3,000 jobs created in the last decade went to people who don’t live in the neighborhood. Less than 3 percent of the neighborhood is white, but over half of jobs in the community are held by white workers. Most Lawndale residents also have to leave their community to find work, and typically earn less than the jobs in the neighborhood pay, Cordova said.
“Programs need to be developed that increase the high school completion rate … to make them competitive for these jobs that exist in their communities. Vocational education becomes very important as an opportunity to boost earnings potential,” Cordova said.
The high unemployment rates in Lawndale are “not a reflection of folks’ desire to work,” said Brenda Palms Barber, CEO of the North Lawndale Employment Network. Unemployment instead points to employment barriers like a lack of training and educational opportunities, she said.
“The reality is, there are reasons why individuals aren’t able to work,” Barber said. “If we would shift our focus to looking at skills, we could broaden our labor pool and more people from the community could have jobs that sustain themselves and their families.”
The report overall shows there is a great need for community-driven investments so any future economic development will primarily benefit longstanding residents of North Lawndale, Cordova said.
“What happens when all this investment occurs … if we already have a pattern of new jobs coming in but people in North Lawndale not being the beneficiaries of those new jobs?” Cordova said.