Employment & Economic Development

Access to training and quality jobs, 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 develops research and policy analysis that informs planning and public policy on decisions related to job creation, workforce development, entrepreneurship, and business retention and recruitment. GCI’s work on Employment and Economic Development reflects a commitment to sustainable economic development strategies that bring growth and opportunities to all communities, providing for an overall stronger economy. Consistent with GCI’s mission, our interdisciplinary work brings together a variety of partners to analyze and shape the dialogue on economic development, while always recognizing the interrelationships between the social, economic, environmental conditions of the community and its 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 metro. For more information, please view the GCI events calendar. 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 brought together 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.

Two reports, released in 2016, have jumpstarted the conversation around the youth employment crisis in Chicago:

Report: Lost: The Crisis of Jobless and Out of School Teens and Young Adults in Chicago, Illinois and the U.S. »
Report: A Lost Generation: The Disappearance of Teens and Young Adults from the Job Market in Cook County »

CUED Manufacturing Project

Working with the support of GCI, former executive director of CUED, Howard Wial, focused on manufacturing and urban and regional economic development. For more information about Dr. Wial’s studies, visit CUED’s page.

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 forthcoming book Why We Overbuild (under contract with University of Chicago Press), GCI Fellow, Rachel Weber, associate 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.