Employment & Economic Development

Access to training and quality jobs, economic development policies that benefit residents and businesses alike, and access to goods and services are all key to a sustainable, fair, and strong local economy.

GCI’s Employment & Economic Development Research Cluster produces research and analysis that informs policies and programs for jobs, training, entrepreneurship, worker cooperatives, innovation districts, commercial revitalization and business recruitment and retention. GCI’s work in this cluster reflects a commitment to inclusive employment and economic development strategies that leads to equitable opportunities for individuals, households and communities, providing for an overall stronger economy. Consistent with GCI’s mission, this interdisciplinary work brings together a variety of partners to analyze and shape the dialogue on employment and economic development, while always recognizing the interrelationships between the social, economic, and environmental conditions of neighborhoods and their relationship to the city as a whole.

Learning & Exchange

In Fall 2013, GCI sponsored the INNOVATE Chicago series, an Employment & Economic Development lecture series, which tapped into some of the newest economic development trends and initiatives in the Chicago metropolitan area. To check out videos from the INNOVATE Chicago series, visit the GCI YouTube channel.

Current Employment & Economic Development Research Cluster Projects

Youth Employment & Entrepreneurship Initiative

In 2014, Great Cities Institute convened community stakeholders to launch its Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Initiative, which includes both participatory research and longitudinal analysis connecting employment to other variables including youth wellbeing and violence.

In early 2016, Great Cities Institute prepared reports on joblessness among young people, demonstrating that the problem was chronic, concentrated and comparatively worse. Each of the reports, prepared for the Alternative Schools Network, were released at hearings, made available on the GCI website and described in GCI blogs.  The reports generated extensive media attention, including  a Sunday New York Times editorial, which in turn led to attention from policy makers, foundations, and groups working directly with young people.

Lost: The Crisis of Jobless and Out of School Teens and Young Adults in Chicago, Illinois and the U.S.

This report contains compilations and calculations of various employment data for males and females 16 to 24 years old by race/ethnicity from 2005 to 2014, comparing Chicago, Illinois, the U.S. and in some instances, adding Los Angeles and New York. Besides an array of figures and tables, the report contains geographic information system generated maps that illustrate the relationship between employment data and population distribution by race/ethnicity. It is our hope and intention that this report, in combination with the voices of young people, can illustrate the persistence and severity of conditions that have ramifications for our young people and generations to come.

Lost: The Crisis of Jobless and Out of School Teens and Young Adults in Chicago, Illinois and the U.S. »

A Lost Generation: The Disappearance of Teens and Young Adults from the Job Market in Cook County

This report prepared for the March 22, 2016 Cook County Board of Commissioners Workforce, Housing and Community Development Committee hearing contains analyses of various employment data for males and females 16 to 24 years old by race/ethnicity from 2005 to 2014, comparing Cook County, Illinois, the U.S. and in several instances, adding comparative data for counties containing the nation’s largest cities: Los Angeles, New York City, and Houston. Besides an array of figures and tables, the report contains GIS generated maps that illustrate the relationship between employment data and population distribution by race/ethnicity. The Executive Summary contains highlights of our findings.

A Lost Generation: The Disappearance of Teens and Young Adults from the Job Market in Cook County »

Strategies to Address Joblessness among Young People

Given the extensive interest generated, GCI has presented the joblessness reports at numerous forums. The causes, conditions,  consequences, and solutions have all been of interest.  The strategies that we promote to increase access to jobs include matching available jobs to people; bringing anchor employment back into neighborhoods; on the job training; jobs programs; criminal justice reform to allow reentry into the job market; community benefit agreements; worker cooperatives; and creating small business incubators and innovation centers in neighborhoods to build on skills and talents to create and package marketable goods and services.

Youth Employment Data: Employment to Population Ratios for 16 to 19 and 20 to 24 Year Olds by Chicago Community Area, 2005-2009 to 2010-2014

In collaboration with The Chicago Tribune, this analysis by the Great Cities Institute examines recent employment trends by Chicago Community Area to identify which areas have experienced improvement in youth employment conditions. The analysis covers 5 years of employment trends for 16 to 19 and 20 to 24 year olds by Chicago Community Area to show the improving and declining employment conditions.

Fact Sheet #2: Chicago Community Area Economic Hardship Index

This Fact Sheet utilizes indicators of economic hardship in an index to measure economic conditions in Chicago Community Areas. This economic hardship index utilizes multiple and diverse indicators to provide a more comprehensive view of economic hardship than single indicators. Utilizing American Community Survey data, this fact sheet presents economic hardship index values for Chicago Community Areas.

Building Women’s Economic Justice

Women for Economic Justice (WEJ) and GCI began its collaboration with a two-day workshop entitled, Immigrant women and economic development: a strategy to mobilize survivors of violence as political actors to promote systemic change. Held on August 19th and 20th, 2015, the workshop included women who work with or are part of WEJ (a 501 C3) and GCI staff. WEJ has used economic development training as a strategy to enable immigrant women survivors of violence to be economically self-sufficient and also raise consciousness to spur community mobilization. The workshop had 15 participants and the goals were to 1) revisit and refine WEJ’s financial training; 2) brainstorm about cooperative business models and best practices for cooperative development training, and 3) create a research/evaluation agenda and plan for the effectiveness of the financial training for the individual participants and the community at large. GCI continues to work with WEJ to develop an assessment tool for the WEJ financial curriculum, which is already being applied in Philadelphia.

Raising Labor Standards in a Volatile Economy

Economic growth is not what it used to be—especially for workers employed at the bottom of the labor market.  The 1990s were the longest and most robust period of economic growth in U.S. history.  Yet even though this period brought sustained job growth and progressively tightening labor markets, it coincided with a pronounced erosion of employment standards for workers holding low-wage jobs.  The succession of deep recessions and protracted jobless recoveries that followed the 1990s boom have witnessed the further entrenchment of “low-road” employment practices across the economy, and workers in diverse sectors including construction, domestic work, retail, and manufacturing have seen wages stagnant and workplace conditions deteriorate.

The worker center movement in the U.S. has emerged in response to these conditions.  Along with their labor union, workforce development, and policy advocacy partners, worker centers are improving wages and working conditions in a range of low-wage industries.  With support from the Ford Foundation, the LIFT Fund and New World Foundation, and under the direction of Professor Nik Theodore, researchers at GCI are providing support to the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), and other workers’ rights organizations.  Activities include documenting conditions in low-wage industries, evaluating organizational performance, and strengthening enforcement of labor standards.

Why We Overbuild

Analysis of commercial space use in Chicago indicates continual excess square footage hovering above the US average for major cities. Even during the boom years, Chicago’s Loop was flooded with underutilized commercial space, the bulk of which was found not in the new office towers and condo buildings but in the older structures that predated the boom.

In her book From Boom to Bubble: How Finance Built the New Chicago (University of Chicago Press), GCI Fellow, Rachel Weber, Professor of Urban Planning and Policy, investigates the causes and effects of the dizzying building booms that occur when real estate development, financial markets, and city planning all operate in overdrive to rapidly erect new structures and demolish older ones. The book offers an antidote to conventional analyses of building cycles. Most explanations of urban change assume that developers respond mechanically to the preferences of potential occupants whose space needs wax and wane with the business cycle. In contrast, Dr. Weber identifies the three main drivers of this recent bout of commercial overbuilding that are related not to market demand but to the dynamics of supply: first, the new financial instruments that made real estate a more liquid and fungible commodity and helped to deepen the integration of the property sector and global capital markets; second, the practices of real estate brokers and other investment intermediaries who created incentives to “do the deal,” build and acquire property, and shuffle tenants from marginally older buildings into new space; and third, the policies of city governments that simultaneously encouraged new construction with zoning changes and subsidies while also removing “obsolete” properties still standing from earlier waves of overbuilding.