Rich Man’s Neighborhood, Poor Man’s Neighborhood

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary It does not take an expert to see the differences between suburban towns like Bellwood and Hillside on the one hand and Elmhurst or Wheaton on the other. Bellwood and Hillside are very working class communities, and quite poor. The houses—many of which were built in the 1950’s and 1960’s—remain the same. The homes, built for middle class families long ago, now belong to lower-middle to lower class families. These families do their best to maintain these homes. Neighborhoods in Elmhurst and Wheaton could not be more different. For sure there are plenty of middle class homes, but there are also many upper-middle class and rich homes and mansions built 140 years ago and some built as recently as the early 2000’s. Because Elmhurst and Wheaton are affluent surburbs there is a greater mix of homes with the homes tending to be on the richer side.

The crazy thing is that Elmhurst and Hillside are right next to each other, but they could not be more worlds apart. But this stark contrast between Bellwood and Hillside on the one hand and Elmhurst and Wheaton on the other is far from being unique. This is true of other poor suburban communities on the one hand and richer suburban communities on the other in the Chicago area. In fact, this is true nationwide. Recently, a report published by both the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University details how suburban communities have changed over the past 40 years from 1970 to 2010. The greatest change has been in the distribution of annual income. The study found that as manufacturing jobs disappeared and many families are making less and less money, the middle class started to disappear. The result has been the appearance of more lower-middle class to lower class suburban communities.

At the same time the growth of business in a number of suburban towns and with many Chicago businesses moving out to the suburbs the result has been the creation of more upper-middle and rich suburban communities. The report noted the growing inequities between the have and have-not suburban towns, with the richer suburban towns taking more of the state’s resources. What it means is that there are more poor suburbs than ever before and some rich suburbs. What a person’s income is will reflect where they will live. This wage inequality reflects on their lifestyles. It reflects whether their children will go to a good school or not, the crime rate in their communities, the availability of grocery stores, the number of small businesses per square block, and the availability of doctors’ clinics and even hospitals. The wage gap between suburban towns also influences the availability of restaurants, public services and the size and maintenance of public libraries.

A growing number of African Americans and Latinos have found their way into some of these more affluent towns, but the majority remain in the poorer suburbs. Many non-Hispanic whites are also finding themselves in the poorer suburbs. What it all points to is that there are many, many more have-nots than rich and upper-middle class and that the middle class is virtually extinct. It is a state of affairs that underlines the reality we live in today. It is what I see whenever I cross over from Hillside into Elmhurst.

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