|Sears world-wide headquarters was in North Lawndale when it was 100 percent white; it left when the community went almost 100 percent black — in a span of twenty years (you can see the Sears Tower from North Lawndale)|
“The American Millstone: An Examination of the Nation’s Permanent Underclass” is a collection of articles filed by Chicago Tribune writers in the early parts of the 1980s. It serves as a documentation of a greater national scandal then even the ongoing “Fast and Furious” story.
It was tough and crowded. It had 51,000 people per square mile, twice the city average. But it hummed. It had synagougues, a Yiddish theater, homes for the elderly and orphans and a well-stocked public library.With the end of World War II and the subsequent movement into the suburbs, all this changed. In 1946, North Lawndale was 64 percent Jewish. By 1950, this was down to 42 percent as Jews moved to better neighborhoods.In their wake came the blacks. In 1950, 13 percent of North Lawndale was black. By 1960, blacks amounted to 91 percent of the population. Today, the figure is 97 percent.North Lawndale’s population hit an all-time high of 125,000 in 1960. It has been falling ever since, to 61,500 today. The loss has been due to not only the exodus of white; middle-class blacks also moved out to better neighborhoods or suburbs.The neighborhood’s change from white to black coincided exactly with the decline in North Lawndale’s economy and the loss of jobs there.Some of the flight of business began early, as shopkeepers moved out and took their shops with them. But the real exodus took place after the  riots, when storekeepers either found themselves burned out or unable to get insurance.A University of Illinois at Chicago study estimated that between 1960 and 1970, North Lawndale lost 75 percent of its businesses and 25 percent of its jobs. Between 1970 and 1980, it lost another 44 percent of the remaining commercial jobs and an astounding 80 percent of its manufacturing jobs.Unlike the old Jewish ghetto, North Lawndale today is no longer teeming. Rather, with its vanished factories and burned-out home lots, it is eerily empty. (p. 206-207)
“God’s beautiful people are here in the midst of hell,” preaches Rev. James Wolff, the 32-year-old pastor of the Lawndale Christian Reformed Church on the South Polaski Road. “People carry a lot of crosses here. But in spite of everything, God has not abandoned us.”Nor, by one measure, at least, have the churches.In North Lawndale’s 5.5-square-mile are, where 48 state lottery outlets and 99 licensed bars and liquor stores testify to worldly fantasies and foibles, there also are about 50 congregations that gather in traditional church building and nearly 70 more that worship in storefronts. (p. 242)
During the 12-month period ended August 31 (1983), statistics show, 1 in every 8.5 residents of North Lawndale was the victim of a serious crime and 1 in 21 was the victim of a violent crime. The citywide rate, by contrast, was only 1 in 50 for violent crimes. The national rate was 1 in 182.The murder rate in North Lawndale is twice the citywide figure and six times the national rate. The incidence of rape and serious assault also are double that of the city as a whole. The many residents of the neighborhood who are hard-working, honest people run those risks along with those in the underclass. (p. 54)
Though the population of North Lawndale has dropped by more than 30,000 in the last decade, the percentage of the people living there on welfare has increased by more than 45 percent. Today, almost 32,000 people receive some form of government assistance, which will total more than $139 million funneled to this community this year. (p. 119)
Every day, more than $40,000 is spent policing North Lawndale. On a typical day, about 140 police officers are routinely assigned to duty there.Last year, the emergency room at Mt. Sinai Hospital, the only one in North Lawndale, handled an estimated 25,000 cases. Almost half were traumatic injuries, and many involved violence. Hospital officials estimate the 60 percent of emergency room services there are paid by public aid, at a cost of more than $1.6 million a year. Hospitalization and treatment add considerably to the expense.Many victims of ghetto slaying are on welfare, and public aid pays for their funerals and burials as well – up to $900 each.The incident of thefts involving more than $300 in cash or goods was below the citywide figure. These figures underscore the depressed economic state of North Lawndale, where there is relatively little to steal. But they do not reflect the growing number of property crimes that ghetto residents commit in other areas. (p. 56-57)
Many parents who pulled their kids out were afraid of the crime and violence that continue to increase in the schools despite the $8.2 million the school board spends each year for security.In addition to driving out middle-class students, gang violence in the schools forced many underclass (black) students to drop out, according to a legislative study.To combat crime and violence, students at some schools are required to check with security officers when they enter the building and surrender any clothing that might represent a gang affiliation.All this has added to the image of the public schools as places where fear is commonplace and learning is scarce.Mabel Moore, who has taught in the inner city for 24 years notes: “So many whites and blacks think we’re teaching an animal species. We’re teaching human beings.” (p. 143)
After 25 years of virtually unchecked housing deterioration, abandonment and demolition, North Lawndale looks like a bombed-out war zone. Almost half of the housing units there have disappeared since 1960.Much of what remains is rundown or dilapidated. This is where the neighborhood’s black underclass lives – with the Illinois Department of Public Aid paying the rent.More than half of the residents of North Lawndale pay their housing costs with welfare money. Each month, landlords in the West Side slum collect an estimated $1.5 million from people on public assistance. The estimate is based on an average monthly rent per unit of $240.The growth of the underclass in North Lawndale has coincided with – and contributed to – the decline in the housing stock. In 1960 there were 30,243 housing units within the 5.5 square-mile community. Today only 16,287 units remain.The total value of housing units lost in the last quarter century is more than $350 million, based on the $25,200 average value of a housing unit in the area today, according to U.S Census Bureau data. (p. 258)
- One of every two people is on welfare
- Three of every five people potential workers are unemployed
- At least two of every five families are headed by women
- Seven of every 10 births are illegitimate.
- One of every two mothers is 21 or younger, and one of every seven is 17 or younger. (p. 96)
You get a good look at the kind of people who just helped re-elect President Barack Obama with near universal approval; you get a good look at the kind of people who enthusiastically elected Harold Washington as the first black mayor of Chicago in 1983; you get a good look at the community Martin Luther King called “home” in 1966, where he attempted to declare war upon housing segregation in Chicago — luckily, Mayor Richard Daley dealt MLK a huge defeat, as the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) held firm and didn’t build any public housing units in white neighborhoods.
And that stand is the primary reason crime and violence is largely segregated in Chicago, whereas Detroit was completely overwhelmed.