Black folks in Obama’s hometown of Chicago, Illinois have little confusion when it comes to the state of the economy.
With the national African-American unemployment rate at 16.7 percent, the highest since 1984, Chicago’s community of color is a dismal example.
“I know that our black men don’t have nowhere to fit,” says Chi-town native Orlando Chaff, who was out of work for 3 years before recently finding a job as a limo driver. “Too many of them standing around the house, standing on the block.”
It’s not just the brothers with too much time to hang. Statistics show that black men in the United States, have the highest unemployment numbers in the U.s. at 19.1 percent. But the rate for African-American women is close behind at 14.5 percent.
Happy to have a job, Janeice McClay, a Trolley Driver in Chicago’s touristy downtown, started an at-home baking business, Desserts By the Pint, after seeing her hours cut. “At one time we worked year around with this job,” she says. “Now they’ve cut back. So we’re more seasonal than when we were everyday.”
Illinois’ unemployment rate is one of the highest in the country at 9.5 percent, slightly above the national average of 9.1 percent. Some 653,000 of the state’s residents were out of work in the month of August.
This number isn’t broken down by race. And it doesn’t reflect those who prefer to remain out of sight, and undocumented.
This is part two in a Grio series on the U.S. economy, as seen in several U.S. cities.
Take TD, as he prefers to be called, on Chicago’s Southside. He stands outside the parking lot of a local fast food restaurant with his white tee hanging to his knees. Leaning against a friend’s shiny SUV that sits on mile high tires bulging with rims, he says, “My car got broken into a few months ago.”
A self-professed former street-runner, turned part-time mechanic, TD continues, “It’s more crime, more people doin’ what they feel like they need to do. The people who went to school with bachelor’s degrees, they’re out here looking for jobs and they’re getting the slots where a lot of us would fill. So people beatin’ garbage can tops, sellin’ bottled water, sellin’ socks. So the kids get neglected because they tryin’ to make ends meet. My ends ain’t never been introduced to each other.”
Sounds like the stereotypical black experience. Struggling. Hustling. Stretching to make a dollar out of nothing. Nearly every Chicago based African-American I spoke to admitted to passionately voting for President Obama in 2008. But when asked about his local economic performance, some of the replies were blunt.
“He only doin what they lettin’ him do. He still got his hands in cuffs,” TD says, sucking his teeth. “He gotta give them something for them to be able to do something. [But] it got worse, for the most part, when Bush was in office.”
People of color have historically been at a deeper financial disadvantage when the country is fiscally depleted. The widely known conspiracy theory is that blacks are the last to get hired, and the first to be fired. So for some in Chicago, the current economic crisis is nothing new.
“The truth is, depending on what sector of society you find yourself in, some things really don’t move you. When 9/11 happened and they said, ‘oh, it’s a terrorist threat.’ [I know] they aren’t coming to my community. I’m not a threat to them. Of course I’m concerned because people lost their lives. But was it a time for me to run for cover? No. That’s just the reality,” says McClay, who put two children through college, on trolley driver’s salary that was sliced after 9-11.
“So even with the economy, I haven’t lost all my riches. Am I concerned? Yes. Have I lost any sleep? No. Some things have just been a particular way of life. There’s a certain group of people that are gonna excel, and provide no matter what. So has [the economy] affected me? Of course. So what do you do? You get lemons, you make lemonade. You learn how to redirect things. I haven’t lost any weight. I’m not trying to be funny, but I’m still eating.”
Read part one of the series here.
Photos by Omari K. Way