CHICAGO, June 3, 2018: In his book When Work Disappears, sociologist William Julius Wilson was among the first to link economic upheaval to a chain reaction of collapsing urban social structures.
It starts as one household after another loses income and cannot patronize neighborhood merchants, which go out of business. As storefronts become vacant and unlighted, crime takes hold. Housing prices plunge, leaving owners without equity or even underwater on their mortgages. Food deserts arise — broad swaths of the city that lack grocery stores, putting healthy diets out of reach for those who wait at bus stops to go anywhere. Corner stores stock mainly liquor, cigarettes, chips, sometimes even synthetic marijuana.
Transients overrun communities where residents no longer recognize each other, breeding distrust and isolation. Children are kept inside. Chronic financial uncertainty creates tension in individual households. Families break up, go into survival mode — or both. A welter of chain reactions unfolds: academic failure, unemployment, despair, crime. When a homicide occurs in a neighborhood, studies show, school performance plunges in the days that follow.
Once economic decline entrenches itself in a neighborhood, it takes on a life of its own, immune to the comings and goings of residents, and the waxing and waning of the larger economy. Such cradle-to-grave adversity triggers a social domino effect. “The neighborhood helps maintain it and exacerbate it,” says Rutgers University public policy professor Paul Jargowsky. “It’s like a feedback loop.”Sociologist Matthew Desmond calls it “correlated adversity.”
In far too many communities the city has done little to reverse this situation. In many respects the city has only aggravated the situation. The depletion of Police resources and the breakdown of Police Beat integrity, the closing of schools and the failure to repurpose them, the segregation of City Colleges occupational training and the deterioration of basic infrastructure including the escalating lead in the water problem, all these things have left communities far less stable and inviting. Adding to this is the absolute crushing blow the regressive revenue raising measures is having on the remaining neighborhood stabilizers, the working class, driving them out of their neighborhoods and most often the city as a whole.