This study identifies demographic and socio-economic changes in the Lower West Side and its
subareas. In 1990, according to U.S. Census data, the Lower West Side, the Chicago community area
in which Pilsen is located, was 88% Hispanic or Latino. By 2020, the percentage decreased to 71%.
While still a majority Latino neighborhood today, this report confirms that in the last two decades,
gentrification solidified in the Eastern Edge of Pilsen, intensified in Central Pilsen, and has spread
throughout the Lower West Side. The demographic trends from 2000 to 2020 make it clear that the
Lower West Side’s population has declined, with the foreign-born population, Hispanic or Latino
family households, and the 18 years and under population being a significant source of this
population loss. The findings also show that the Lower West Side is becoming more educated with
an increasing median household income comparable to that of the City of Chicago. While Hispanic
or Latino household income and educational attainment increased in the Lower West Side, it is still
lower when compared to other race and ethnic groups. The Lower West Side also had a substantial
increase in the share of the employed population working professional jobs. From 2005-2009 to
2016-2020, the Management, Business, Science, and Arts occupational category increased by
151.4%, over 5 times the rate for the City of Chicago. Gross rents, meanwhile, increased from 2005-
2009 to 2016-2020 splitting the Lower West Side between households paying more than $1,000 in
rent and those paying below $1,000 in rent.
If these trends continue, Pilsen is in danger of losing its remaining working-class families,
particularly, if nothing is done to maintain the affordability of the neighborhood. For this reason,
development projects such as the current 18th and Peoria site can play a crucial role – and provide
an example – in helping to alleviate rental housing cost burden to risk further population loss of
working-class Mexican families in the Pilsen neighborhood.
This report was initiated by UIC’s Professor John J. Betancur, whose interest in Pilsen and
gentrification more generally, goes back several decades. GCI compiled the data in this report in
response to a request by Professor Betancur to document, who currently lives in Pilsen.
John J Betancur,
Professor of Urban Planning and Policy, University of Illinois Chicago.
Economic Development Planner, the Great Cities Institute.