On Wednesday, June 19, CTU President Karen Lewis delivered a speech in which she accused Illinois’ white people, and particularly Chicago’s businessmen, of merely feigning their concern for the students of the Chicago public schools.
I paraphrase, of course, as it’s unlikely that many modern union presidents are familiar with such good, accurate verbs as “to feign.” In the same speech, in fact, she admitted that she devoted her after-school hours as a youth much more to baseball practice than her studies. One might expect a person in the education profession to be embarrassed about such an admission, but once a profession is unionized, much that one would take for granted in areas like preparedness and honor are thrown out the window, so an admission that should have been shocking raised nary an eyebrow.
Ms. Lewis accused Chicago’s “rich white people” of claiming to love the kids while hating the parents, and she happily used this claim of her opponents’ alleged racism as her Louisville Slugger to beat up the taxpayers who would surely agree that they have been robbed more than enough already over the years, as Ms. Lewis prepares to call for further shakedowns.
It would be easy to focus on the racial aspect of her rant – the modern American left relishes any opportunity to strive for racial discord, as the most useful arrow in their quiver, whether in the halls of public debate or the seclusion of the ballot booth. Call the establishment a bunch of racists, and pray that nobody notices how diverse a group the establishment already is, making such a claim a transparent and outrageous lie.
But let’s consider instead the broad issues at hand, rationally, and ask ourselves – who is really to blame for the condition?
This speech – along with Ms. Lewis’ broader current fury in general – was prompted by the Emanuel Administration’s decision to close some fifty schools across the city of Chicago. As the union president allegedly representing the interests of the teachers in those schools, she therefore has standing to discuss the situation. But was it really as heartless a move as she paints it?
Let’s consider the demographics of the city of Chicago. In 1950, the city’s population was over three and a half million people: 3,620,962, to be exact, according to the Census Bureau. Wow. That’s a big city; it needs a lot of schools.
Since that peak, however, the city has been shrinking. By 1970, it was down to 3,366,957. By 1990, Chicago only had 2,783,911 residents. And what’s our number today? According to the 2010 census, Chicago is now down to 2,695,598, just north of two and a half million people.
Yes, in the past sixty years, Chicago has lost a million residents. Do you think it still needs as many schools as it needed in 1950 – now that it’s a city of a million fewer people?
Such numbers admittedly don’t move up and down at a perfectly identical rate. A city may trend older when large, or trend younger when small; even a stable population total will see the need for schoolrooms rise and fall as the ratio of singles to marrieds, and of small families to large, changes as well. But generally speaking, the city was forty percent larger sixty years ago than it is today (or it’s thirty percent smaller today, depending on which direction we look at it… again, here we risk losing Ms. Lewis’ attention with complex mathematics). We simply must admit that the city doesn’t need as many school rooms as it did at its peak.
Nor can the city afford them. A city that has lost a million inhabitants, and lost businesses, and property value, and tax revenue, even while tax rates have been hiked again and again, simply cannot afford to keep offering the same services that it could offer when it was a much bigger city with more revenue coming in. The city is broke, and Ms. Lewis, like countless union bosses before her, doesn’t understand or care about the reality outside her union’s fantasy bubble world of a cornucopian government (with apologies again in case my use of the correct word has left Ms. Lewis or her union membership behind).
The city of Chicago is, for all intents and purposes, bankrupt, like so many other cities. It has a window of time in which the right actions might help it save itself, but such actions take both economic sense and political courage. Few cities today have leadership with either in abundance, let alone both.
The reasons for the closure of these fifty schools therefore – clearly – have nothing to do with racism or disrespect or class divisions. The city is shrinking; it’s simple math.
The Winds of Change
One may, however, still legitimately wonder about the many causes of the many problems plaguing Chicago and its schools. Is it all the fault of rich white people, as the race-baiters claim? Was this once-great city placed on the road to bankruptcy by venture capitalists who stay awake nights trying to think of a way to make children walk an additional half mile through dangerous streets to school?
The Dangers – The fear for children’s safety is not misplaced. Our city’s streets are indeed dangerous places, filled with thugs, robbers, rapists, killers, drug dealers, muggers, brawlers. Children are at risk in every block in which they must walk, and they remain at risk once they arrive at school, for those same sociopaths rule so many of our schools and their playgrounds.
Whose fault is this? Is it the business community that’s transformed our legal system over the past half century so that criminals, even whole gangs, are hard to prosecute, harder still to convict, and nearly impossible to sentence to much real jail time? No, it’s the left that’s so warped our criminal justice system. It’s the Democratic party and their appointments on the courts that have turned our cities and their schools into war zones.
The Resources – The fact of diminishing resources is also well-founded. The city isn’t lying when it says they don’t have the money to deliver the generous services they want to provide. But whose fault is this? Did the business community rob the city’s rainy day fund? Did the business community pick the pockets of school principals for their lunchroom money? No, it’s the left that spent decades driving employment out of our cities, even out of our country to foreign shores. As employment disappears, so too must the potential employees depart, in search of jobs. Through punitive taxation, crippling business regulations, and the aforementioned crime wave, the left has driven out so many businesses, directly reducing the tax revenue stream, but equally importantly, changing the proportions of working and non-working people in Chicago. When there are fewer jobs in a city that offers generous welfare benefits, the working class moves away, and the nonworking class moves in. Our cities became havens for people on relief.
During these fifty years, beginning with the generous construction of such poverty magnets as Cabrini Green and the Robert Taylor Homes, Chicago consciously sought out the gradual impoverishment of its citizenry. How then can Chicago be surprised that as its population has grown poorer, by design, the resources flowing into the cities' coffers have similarly diminished? And are we expected to forget that the single greatest arrow in the heart of the government’s budget is our unfunded-but-generous pension liability, brought about courtesy of our public employee unions, the CTU chief among them? Here too, it’s the left that has dug the grave.
The Solutions – There are many things that can be done to save Chicago, but they must begin with the remedies to the problems listed above. We need to imprison or execute our criminals so that they no longer terrorize our communities. We need to welcome tax-paying employment back to the city again. And we need to fix the problems of single-parent households and drug culture, and the nearly inescapable poverty that these problems bring to the table. The welfare code must be rewritten to stop discouraging marriage. The relative attraction of the criminal culture vs. the middle class culture must be straightened out in the communities, so that Chicago’s poor, especially the minority groups, aspire to leadership in manufacturing, distribution, and entrepreneurship rather than to leadership in gangs.
But who stands in the way of every such reform? Who is keeping Chicago’s poor on the bottom, unemployed and unemployable, uneducated and uneducable? It is and remains the American left, embodied by the Democratic Party, which is owned lock, stock and barrel by the unions of which the CTU is a charter member.
Until the left learns that there is more to life than politics – that perhaps they would serve their people better by encouraging their economic rise than by ever locking in their dependency – the left will remain their own worst enemy, causing the constant loss of employment for their members, ensuring the ever-worsening vulnerability of the children in their charge.
As long as that party remains in control, forever choosing progressivism over progress, and power over prosperity, don’t be surprised that life worsens for their own even faster than it worsens for the rest of us. Ms. Lewis may blame others for the problems of Chicago, but upon reflection, it sure sounds like a classic case of projection, doesn’t it?
Copyright 2013 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based international trade compliance lecturer. He remembers a time when he could walk a mile to grammar school in perfect safety, and mourns the loss of that simpler, safer time, before the destructive policies of the left reached their ultimate logical conclusion.
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