Chicago’s Vanishing Middle Class
...Chicago provides a striking case in point. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into initiatives benefiting the city’s elite, such as high-tech industry support, a $100 million “river walk” along the Chicago River, and “tax-increment financing” subsidies for major developments like a proposed basketball arena. And Emanuel has at least talked about boosting the fortunes of the poor by getting a handle on the city’s crime problem and improving education. Meanwhile, schools and mental-health clinics have closed in Chicago, and libraries have had their hours reduced, but Emanuel has so far done little talking or acting about the fate of Chicago’s middle class, which has declined remarkably over the last four decades, according to new research by University of Chicago graduate student Daniel Hertz. As the gray areas in Hertz’s map show, Chicago was mostly middle class in 1970. By 2012, Chicago’s middle class had radically shrunk, and the city was divided between upscale areas (green) and poor ones (red). Hertz has previously documented Chicago’s growing public-safety inequality gap and examined how Chicago’s upscale areas are experiencing gentrification in the public schools.
The plight of the middle class in cities like Chicago can’t be blamed entirely on liberal policies. The global economy has clearly benefited the talented, the educated, and the already wealthy, often at the expense of those in formerly middle-class occupations, like manufacturing. And it’s unlikely that the forces unleashed by globalization will diminish. One might expect, then, that big-city Democratic leaders like Emanuel or de Blasio would make a strong appeal to middle-class constituents.
They haven’t, because for liberal mayors, middle-class decline is convenient and politically advantageous. Much of America’s moneyed elite has already shifted its allegiance to the Left, especially in cities. Wealthy, educated urbanites hold generally liberal social values and can afford the higher taxes “blue” cities like Chicago impose—especially when those taxes help pay for the upscale amenities they desire. Even when the mayoral administration is less friendly, the urban elite tends to get its needs met. At the same time, the urban poor have remained loyal to the Democrats, no matter how little tangible improvement liberal policies make in their lives. And the various unions, community organizers, and activist groups that advocate for the poor profit handsomely from the moneys directed toward liberal antipoverty programs.
This is the Democratic Party’s new top-bottom coalition, one in which the traditional middle class—white ethnics, blue-collar manufacturing and trade workers, small business owners, and others—has no part. These “left-outs” are the urban equivalents of Reagan Democrats....