Our Vendors 

Two Chicagos and the effort to bring one back from the brink

Tue, Nov 12, 2013

Gov. Pat Quinn made a late showing at the rally to add his backing.

Gov. Pat Quinn made a late showing at the rally to add his backing.

An analysis of U.S. Census data by Grassroots Collaborative, “Downtown Prosperity, Neighborhood Neglect: Chicago’s Black and Latino Workers Left Behind,” says that more than 52,000 jobs were created in downtown Chicago between 2002 and 2011 due to economic development investment by the City of Chicago.

The study also says that between 2004 and 2008, despite $1.2 billion in TIF money spent in downtown job creation through economic development, only 1 in 4 of those jobs went to Chicago residents; these jobs were largely in the city’s prosperous neighborhoods.

On October 12, Grassroots Collaborative hosted a town hall at the UIC Forum for its campaign, “Take Back Chicago.” Thirty-five community action groups were represented more than 2,000 attendees.

A major issue for the Take Back Chicago campaign is greater transparency in tax returns filed by publicly traded corporations to address the state tax revenue shortfalls that have resulted in cutbacks in community-funded programs. This places a spotlight on HB3627, now before the Illinois General Assembly. The bill, introduced by state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), is also known as the Illinois Corporate Responsibility and Tax Disclosure Act.

Francine Rico, a nursing home worker speaking at the Take Back Chicago town hall, summarized the anger:

“We must demand that the rich and major corporations finally pay their fair share in taxes to invest in our communities again. Why should a banker or corporation making over a million dollars pay the same taxes as a single mom making just $15,000 a year? That ain’t right. Two thirds of the corporations in this state pay zero income taxes. Shame! But they find those loopholes and they don’t pay a cent.

“When the rich and corporations don’t pay their fair share, OUR programs go unfunded and our working families have to pick up the tab and pay the price. I work in the inner city of Chicago and I see it for myself.”

Mauro Ortega of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council

Mauro Ortega of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council

The Grassroots Collaborative claims that as much as $6 billion in tax revenue could be reclaimed simply by closing tax loopholes.

Other issues addressed at the meeting included the closing of public health clinics, the loss of low-income housing investment, cutbacks in educational programs and school closings, the loss of jobs and lack of investment in economic development in the poorer neighborhood communities, and a desired increase in the minimum wage.

Glenda Sykes of the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless was asked how the government can fix the immediate problem of being able to fund all of these programs in the short-term. She said, “That is really a tough question, but they need to do their jobs. They need to lower this rate because corporations and the banks, they take all our tax money and keep building and getting stronger. We’re staying poor and on the streets homeless. We can’t make it.”

Mauro Ortega of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council explained the anger to StreetWise. “They come in or apply from elsewhere but instead of [jobs] being given to Chicago residents, they are being given to people who don’t live in Chicago or live in the suburbs.

Glenda Sykes of the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless

Glenda Sykes of the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless

So should companies that are being subsidized only receive stimulus money if they create jobs for Chicago residents?

“Yes. I can’t speak for everybody here, but as for myself, I believe so, yes,” Ortega said.

When asked if there were solutions, he responded, “What we want is TIF money, which is money provided by communities, to be reinvested back into communities and our schools.”

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Research Vice President Bill Testa noted in a blog last May entitled “Hog Butchers and Mad Men” that manufacturing jobs in the city have fallen from a 1947 peak of 668,000 to 65,000 in 2012. Suburban manufacturing jobs have also been dwindling since the mid-1960s, but in 2012 there were still more than four suburban manufacturing jobs for every one in the city.

Chicago Rapper Lamar Jordan

Chicago Rapper Lamar Jordan

Testa cited census data in saying that 62 percent of workers in city manufacturing jobs also live in the city. However, city residents comprise only 1 in 4 of the suburban manufacturing workforce. Office jobs in the Loop support manufacturing, from management consulting to research and development, accounting, advertising, transportation and logistics. Testa pointed to transportation and logistics, as well as better overall training, as a means for growing and attracting more jobs.

Four state representatives and 11 Chicago City Council members attended the forum, where they were given the opportunity to answer “yes” or “no” to supporting initiatives put forth by the community. To answer “no” would be political suicide and so there was no chance for the elected officials to express nuanced, thoughtful opinions.

All politicians in attendance gave their unanimous support and Gov. Pat Quinn made a late showing to add his backing. Another issue for the Grassroots Collaborative is raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago held a daylong, city-wide strike in August for fast food and retail workers to push its “Fight for 15.”

Quinn favors an increase to $10 an hour from $8.25, which is in a bill that remains in an Illinois Senate committee.

However, Peter Gill, spokesperson for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, told the Chicago Tribune last November that if the minimum wage were nearly doubled, “you are going to have to cut the number of employees.”

The comments and questions raised by Francine Rico at the close of her speech at the Take Back Chicago town hall seemed to get to the point of it all: “Chicago is at a crossroads right now and the question we must ask is, what kind of city will we become? Will we be a world class city with a thriving middle class, a first rate education system and a secure place to raise a family and retire? Or will we be a city dominated by the rich and corporate elites who dictate their selfish agendas on working families?”

With money being drawn away from publicly-funded programs that help poorer communities that have lost jobs and suffered, it is a problem that won’t go away and will only get worse until public officials find a way to address these issues amid mounting public anger. One thing is certain. As public pressure mounts, the options remaining to public officials become fewer as Chicago communities begin to demand and dictate change.

By John Kolesa
StreetWise Contributor

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