Mapped: Chicago's Shrinking Middle Class

In 1970, half of the city's census tracts were middle-income. Now, only 16 percent of them remain so. Polarization between the well-off and the poor essentially splits the city in two.

1 minute read

March 3, 2019, 9:00 AM PST

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


Chicago Bungalows

David Wilson / Flickr

Researchers from the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago have compiled a troubling set of maps showing how severely the city's middle class has shrunk over the past half-century.

"UIC's maps show that fully half of the city was middle income in 1970, including large swaths on every side of town," Linda Lutton writes. "Today, just 16 percent of the city's 797 census tracts are considered middle income. Those middle income areas are confined mostly to the corners of the city, and to thin strips between areas of wealth and poverty."

"Stubborn" racial segregation is one part of the story, as is the recent arrival of high-income households staking claims on the city's North Side. "Just 8 percent of Chicago's census tracts were considered high or very high income in 1970. Today, more than one-fifth of the city's census tracts are higher income." Low-income neighborhoods in the city's south and west tend to be majority black or Latino.

Meanwhile, says demographer Rob Paral, the North Side's rising affluence maps to education: people with higher degrees are replacing previous middle-class residents. Some affluent residents "buy half-million-dollar homes nearby that they tear down to use as side yards," according to a local realtor. "Two-flats, which middle-class families could afford because of the rental income, are now regularly converted to single-family homes," Lutton writes.

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