Rich ‘burb, Poor ‘burb (3-29-1987)

Today we got some good news and some bad news.  The good news was that Chicago had the nation’s wealthiest suburb.  The bad news was that Chicago also had the nation’s poorest suburb.

Pierre deVise may have been the first scholar to call himself an urbanologist.  His specialty was demographic studies.  After analyzing census data and other stats, he would issue a report.  He was always thorough, and often pessimistic.  The second quality earned him the nickname Dr. Gloom.
Pierre deVise

Pierre deVise

DeVise’s latest work was titled “The Geography of Wealth and Poverty in Suburban America, 1979 to 1985.”  He compared America’s 15 largest metropolitan areas.  Kenilworth was ranked #1 in the entire country, with a per-capita income of $44,520.  Ford Heights was dead last—$4,523 per-capita.

The gap between the top and bottom was widening, too.  Back in 1969, when Ford Heights was called East Chicago Heights, Kenilworth’s income was 4 times greater than the other suburb. By 1979, that ratio had become 9 to 1.  Now, according to the new study, each resident of Kenilworth earned 11 times more than each resident of Ford Heights.

DeVise’s report went on to rank Glencoe as #20 on the national wealthy-suburb list, and Winnetka as #22.  Few people were surprised that the North Shore was doing well.  What shocked Chicagoans was how much poverty was at their doorstep.  Robbins and Phoenix, two other southern suburbs, also ranked near the bottom of the income list.

The country was going through boom times—yet Ford Heights had 65% unemployment.  The town was insular, with little connection to Chicago or any nearby communities.  One resident said that Ford Heights seemed more like a rural village in the Deep South than a Chicago suburb.

DeVise echoed the distinction, with a slightly different take.  “The south Cook County suburbs were not really true suburbs,” he said.  “They were more of an industrial satellite.”

Numbers are numbers, but statistics can be interpreted in various ways.  One critic of the study said that suburbs shouldn’t be compared solely on wealth.  “We have 261 towns in northeastern Illinois,” he said, “and no two are alike.”

Pierre deVise died in 2004.  His reports are missed.



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