Editor’s note: The following is the third in a series of articles that will expose the misery of life in America’s poorest cities, all of which have one thing in common: they are controlled exclusively by Democrats. Each article presented by FrontPage will reveal how the production of mass urban poverty is much more than just a failure of leadership, but a means of political survival for the Left. To read the background pamphlet by David Horowitz and John Perazzo, “Government Versus The People,” click here.
The city of Chicago, Illinois has been led exclusively by Democratic mayors since 1931. Under the “progressive” policies of such notables as Richard J. Daley, Michael Bilandic, Jane Byrne, and Harold Washington, the city’s economic and social fabric decayed markedly during the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. These trends were accompanied by a steep decline in Chicago’s population, which fell from 3.62 million in 1950 to 2.78 million by 1990.
Under Mayor Richard M. Daley (1989-2011), Chicago rebounded a bit in the 1990s when it added some 560,000 new jobs and gained more than 100,000 residents. But in the first decade of the 21st century, these successes faded. Fiscal mismanagement by the Daley administration began to manifest itself in Chicago’s economy, causing 7.1% of the city’s jobs to dry up and disappear—more than any other large metropolitan area.
Meanwhile, the city government was running an annual budget deficit of approximately $650 million. Contributing heavily to these shortfalls were ever-escalating expenditures on the lavish benefits of Chicago’s many public-sector union employees, whose pensions were, by mandate of the Illinois state constitution, permanently immune to cutbacks. By early 2012, each household in the city owed, on average, more than $63,000 in local government liabilities.
Chicago’s Democratic leaders sought to address the budget deficit by raising local property and sales taxes. This, coupled with Illinois’ already-high state-tax rates, became a recipe for severe financial hardship in the Windy City. According to a March 2013 Wall Street Journal report, the state and local taxes currently paid by Chicagoans are higher than those paid by their counterparts in all but four other American cities. This oppressive tax climate has dealt a painful blow to Chicago’s small businesses.
Another factor harming small businesses in Chicago is the system of “aldermanic privilege” that dominates the city’s politics and serves as a fertile breeding ground for corruption. As urban-affairs analyst Aaron Renn explains, Chicago’s aldermen—i.e., city council members—have “nearly dictatorial control over what happens in their wards, from zoning changes to sidewalk café permits.” “This,” says Renn, “dumps political risk onto the shoulders of every would-be entrepreneur, who knows that he must stay on the alderman’s good side to be in business. It’s also a recipe for sleaze: 31 aldermen have been convicted of corruption since 1970.” According to a University of Illinois report issued in 2012, Chicago is the most politically corrupt city in the United States, having averaged 51 public corruption convictions annually since 1976. In such a political climate, failure to adhere dutifully to the demands of the mayor and his power structure typically spells doom for any business enterprise.
Entrepreneurs in Chicago are further handicapped by the byzantine regulations and red tape that make it very costly and complicated to run a business within the city’s confines. Violations of these complex rules commonly result in lawsuits. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has described the litigation environment of Cook County as “the most unfair and unreasonable” of any jurisdiction in the United States.
Chicago’s fiscal woes are compounded by the poor economic conditions in Illinois generally, where egregious financial mismanagement has plunged a once-thriving state economy into virtual ruin. The state’s job-creation rate ranks a lowly 48th in the U.S., and its $9,624 public debt per capita is second only to New York’s. Largely as a consequence of this runaway debt, two of the nation’s major credit-rating corporations, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, currently give Illinois the lowest credit rating of any state in the Union.
Yet another reality that has had a major impact on life in Chicago is crime. Since the mid-1970s, the annual homicide tally within the city has ranged between 435 and 970, with the trends and fluctuations more-or-less mirroring those observable nationwide. Today Chicago ranks among the most dangerous cities in the U.S. Blacks, who constitute roughly 35% of Chicago’s population, commit 76% of all homicides in the city. By contrast, whites, who are 28% of the population, commit 4% of the homicides. Driving the trend of high crime rates in Chicago’s black community is a high incidence of single motherhood; between 75% and 80% of the city’s black children are born out-of-wedlock. Sociological research has demonstrated conclusively that growing up without a father is a far better forecaster of a boy’s future criminality than either race or poverty. As Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector notes, “Illegitimacy is a major factor in America’s crime problem. Lack of married parents, rather than race or poverty, is the principal factor in the crime rate.”
In recent years, Chicago has been the scene of at least 50 incidents of black-on-white “flash mob” violence, as documented by the intrepid author Colin Flaherty. One of the most recent cases occurred at the end of March, when some 500 blacks stormed the so-called Magnificent Mile, an upscale shopping area, assaulting innocent people and destroying property.
Chicago leadership’s response to this criminality has been largely ineffectual. For example, the city’s police culture has been far less assertive than that of New York, where Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and police chief William Bratton in the 1990s instituted a proactive, aggressive, and highly successful anti-crime strategy that incorporated “stop-and-frisk” policies and so-called “broken windows” law-enforcement measures. Their approach was subsequently continued, to similar effect, by Giuliani’s Republican/Independent successor, Michael Bloomberg. By contrast, Chicago’s politicians, community activists, and religious leaders alike have largely eschewed the methods of Giuliani and Bloomberg. As a former Chicago deputy superintendent once observed: “We’d marvel at how the NYPD was getting mayoral support” during Giuliani’s tenure in office. “Mayor Daley is not a cop supporter,” he elaborated. “It’s no secret that he rules the police department with an iron fist.”
Due to the social, economic, and crime-related challenges faced by Chicagoans, more than 200,000 people moved out of the city during the first decade of the 21st century—an exodus exceeded in magnitude only by the former residents of Detroit.
Previous articles in the series:
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