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Study: Chicago-area segregation costs lives and billions in economic growth

Written by
Jonathan Samples

The Chicago metropolitan area pays a high price for its well-established patterns of racial and economic segregation. Those findings are part of a new report released on Tuesday by Chicago-based public policy research group Metropolitan Planning Council and Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Urban Institute. The study, titled The Cost of Segregation: National Trends and the Case of Chicago, 1990–2010, found that segregation costs the area approximately $8 billion in gross domestic product and prevents what could amount to a 30-percent reduction in the region's murder rate, among other outcomes.

Researchers analyzed data from the nation's 100 most-populous regions and the seven counties (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will) that make up the Chicago metro area. Specifically, they considered factors such as median household income, per capita income, proportion of residents ages 25 and older with bachelor's degrees, life expectancy and homicide rates between 1990 and 2010.

In addition to increased violence and lost GDP, the study found that segregation in Chicago also resulted in negative effects on education and overall income. If levels of economic and racial segregation were reduced to the national median, African Americans in the area would earn an additional $2,982 on average each year, according to the report. That would bring about $4.4 billion in additional income to the region. Similarly, researchers found a link between lower levels of segregation and a higher percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree. In terms of total lifetime earnings, that correlation and the resulting education gap costs the Chicago region about $90 billion.

Compared with other large metro areas, Chicagoland was the fifth most racially and economically segregated region in 2010. Philadelphia; Bridgeport, Connecticut; New York; and Milwaukee were the only areas with higher levels of segregation. The map below shows the ranking of segregation for the 100 metro areas studied, using data from 2010.

Segregation remains one of the most pressing social issues in Chicago, but the Metropolitan Planning Council study provides an eye-opening illustration of the sheer number of lives (and money) that could be saved by reducing the divide between the North and South Side.

Courtesy Urban Institute

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