Chicago has a distinctive past but a familiar-sounding (i.e., ominous) future, writes DePaul sociologist John P. Koval, introducing a new collection of articles he co-edited, The New Chicago: A Social and Cultural Analysis:
"Chicago . . . is our only major city that had, from its beginning, an immigrant core contained within an immigrant skin." Unlike Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, it was never a WASP town. "It has no colonial past: only an immigrant and industrial history and a postindustrial present." (BTW, Jacqueline Peterson paints a dizzying and unforgettable picture of Chicago's non-WASP past in "The Founding Fathers," a chapter in the book Ethnic Chicago, the first few pages of which can be read online. For the full impact you'll have to find the book.)
But the past is past. Nowadays, business needs fewer workers, and those it does need come more and more from "a radically new creation: the contingent labor force. This innovation reduces the labor force to a few 'core' jobs and, as need dictates, brings in a 'just-in-time' contingent labor force . . . . The workforce mobilized by temporary help agencies doubled in size between 1982 and 1989 and doubled again between 1989 and 1997. One temp agency executive refers to his and other agencies as the ATM's of the job market."
The big picture? "Chicago has two different yet coexisting economies. One is a shrinking but still very much alive industrial-based economy characterized by good pay and a large white- and blue-collar middle class . . . .
"The other economy consists of service and IT occupations with a two-tiered system of inequality. The upper segment is characterized by high skill and pay, job security, and high prestige. The lower tier"--well, you know. "The metaphor is an hourglass."