Wednesday, July 21, 2010

No Exit

Posted By on 07.21.10 at 01:02 PM

The Chicago Reporter has been doing some good, depressing work on south- and west-side unemployment: "In 2008, 52 percent of people ages 16 to 30 in East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale and West Garfield Park had not worked during the previous five years or longer." That's from a profile of an workforce agency that struggles to place people, many of whom are homeless, mentally ill, and/or have criminal records, in jobs in communities where precious few exist.

It's a vicious circle: where there are no jobs, there's no money, which means that businesses don't want to come to those places, which means there are no jobs, which means there are more troubles, which means there are fewer jobs than that, and so on. Given the perilous state of city and state finances (here and elsewhere), that's why so many people are looking to the federal government for an infusion of money; it's the spender of last resort.

But it's increasingly looking like nothing is coming except for an extension of middle-class tax cuts.

This is one reason why I haven't been able to give myself to complete opposition to the west-side Walmart. While I understand the logic of the argument that it's worse than nothing—it institutionalizes a deleterious form of employment which emphasizes low wages and high turnover, putting pressure on better employers—given the country-wide state of employment and the greater joblessness on the south and west sides of Chicago, I can't help but wonder if it's better to fight to improve existing jobs rather than only accept jobs of a certain quality, and whether union activists might actually have more leverage once Walmart has actually made the investment in a new store.

(Plus, as Nelson Lichtenstein pointed out in his interview with Max Brooks, Target, beloved of the middle and upper-middle-class, doesn't get nearly the blowback Walmart does. This is attributed to unions' desire to start with the big swinging dicks at Walmart, but I can't help but think when it comes to more diffuse anti-Walmart sentiment that there's a class and regional component.)

One other interesting passage from the Reporter's Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, from a piece on unemployment in Lawndale:

North Lawndale’s unemployment rate was in the single digits in 1970 before rising precipitously. By contrast, in 1960, the Loop had by far the city’s highest level of male unemployment, with more than 17 percent of male workers out of work.

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