wealth definition

New research maps wealth gaps in Chicago and Cook County


A recent analysis from the Urban Institute — a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C. — shows a typical household in the richest parts of Cook County has more than 200 times the wealth than a typical household in the poorest parts of the area. The analysis also found that areas with low household wealth tend to have a higher share of households with people of color.

Researchers Mingli Zhong and Aaron Williams examined two measures of wealth: net worth and emergency savings of at least $2,000. They define net worth as the difference between a household’s total assets (think: cash, retirement accounts, stocks and real estate) and total debt.

Zhong and Williams found these two measures can indicate a household’s ability to “pursue new opportunities” and “bounce back from financial shocks.”

Households on Chicago’s South and West Sides face higher barriers to new opportunities and are more likely to struggle with financial bumps compared to those on the city’s North Side, according to Urban’s analysis. Less than a third of households in the majority-Black Englewood, Chicago Lawn and Greater Grand Crossing area have $2,000 in emergency savings. But in majority-white areas like Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and the Loop, more than 80% of households have that financial buffer.

The disparities are just as stark in suburban Cook County. 91% of households in majority-white northeast Cook County have at least $2,000 in emergency savings, compared to 49% of households in majority-Black areas of southeast Cook County like Riverdale and Dolton.

When it comes to net worth, households in northeast Cook County have a median net worth of nearly $1 million, whereas the median difference between assets and debt for households in the majority-Black and Latino North Lawndale, Little Village, Humboldt Park, East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park area is less than $5,000.

These disparities are not new, and their impact goes beyond material consequences. Last year, the University of Illinois Chicago’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy published a report demonstrating how the lack of intergenerational wealth among Black and Latino families affected their mental health.

The Urban Institute researchers included several recommendations to close the local racial wealth gap, including eliminating racial inequities in access to credit and financial services.

Charmaine Runes is WBEZ’s data/visuals reporter. Follow her @maerunes. She previously worked at the Urban Institute, which published the analysis used for this story.


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