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One of Evanston Now’s frequent commenters claimed yesterday that “Evanston lacks a majority middle class.”

He suggested that Evanston is unlike most of America because it has more rich and poor people and fewer in the middle.

We don’t usually have time to try to research the assertions our commenters make, but that sounded like a particularly interesting one, and it was a slow morning for news today, so we did a little digging and found what you see in the chart above, data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2010-2014 which splits household income into six brackets.

Now, one of the elusive things about the term “middle class” is that nobody agrees on where the middle ends and the upper and lower begin.

But if you look at the chart, you can see that Evanston has slightly fewer people in the lowest income bracket, and slightly more people in the two highest income brackets than the State of Illinois or the nation as a whole.

Combining the three brackets that cover the income range of $25,000 to $100,000, Evanston has 52 percent of its households in that range, Illinois has 53 percent and the nation has 54 precent.

So, if that’s the middle, we look a lot more like the rest of the country than you might suppose. And perhaps we do have the “sizable and healthy middle class” that the commenter sees as “characteristic of a healthy society.”

And it would appear that about half of our skew toward the upper income side of the range can be attributed to relatively higher income levels across the state of Illinois, compared to the nation as a whole.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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6 Comments

  1. There’s less in Evanston’s middle

    Intreresting stats but look at more recent data – https://datausa.io/profile/geo/evanston-il/#household_income

    Here, you will see under housing and living a 2014 household income chart showing about 27 percent of the Evanston household income is below 35k (10 percent under 10k) and 38 percent earning more than 100k (15 percent above 200k!). With Evanston's cost of living standards, 35k annual income ain't middle class.

    Now compare that chart with the national income average shown in the gray box. You will see Evanston's income on both ends of the scale is higher. 

    14.7 percent of Illinoisans are now living at or below the poverty line as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About 14 percent in Evanston live in poverty. The national poverty rate is 14.5 percent.

    According to a 2012 five-year American Community Survey: 

    The majority of Evanston families make more than $100,000 a year. 

    The median household income is $68,107, as compared to a state average of $55,735.

    The median home value is $395,000, nearly double the state average of $198,500.

    I guess it all depends how you define middle class. I think a good argument can be made that a good portion of household income is greater on both ends of the scale, compared to state and national averages. Thus, there's less in the middle.

  2. Who are Evanston’s Low-income Residents

    I wonder how you live in Evanston if you earn less than $35,000 a year. Is this counting college students? There are no apartments under. $1000/mo in Evanston.

    1. Living on less than $35K in Evanston

      1. College students are included in the census figures.
      2. There are a limited number of apartments available for under $1K/mo in Evanston. Just check Craigslist to see some.
      3. People cut costs by having roommates … or live in an SRO, like the YMCA … or qualify for a subsidize senior housing unit … or have a housing voucher … or are living in a house they paid off the mortgage on when they were younger and still working. It's done. Not saying it's fun.

      — Bill

  3. Three Whole Foods Stores; Three Proms

    This was an interesting story, and I appreciate that the author took the time to research this. With this data, it is good to keep in mind that Evanston’s cost of living index is 129.50 (http://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/city/illinois/evanston)

    According to data from the 2015 Community Survey (graphed here: http://www.towncharts.com/Illinois/Economy/Evanston-city-IL-Economy-data.html) among those 16 and older with reported earnings, Evanston has 25 percent of individuals earning less than $10,000 a year. Those earning between $10,000 and $19,999 accounted for 10 percent of individuals. Those earning between $20,000 and $49,999 accounted for 24 percent of individuals. Those earning between $50,000 and $99,999 accounted for 25 percent of individuals. Those earning $100,000 or more accounted for 17 percent of individuals. There does seem to an unusually large share of people at both extremes. It is prudent to keep in mind that Evanston has a large college population that probably accounts for some, but not all, of the individuals earning less than $10,000. 53 percent of those in poverty were between 18 and 34. The median income for those under 25 was $10,226. The portion of Evanston with the highest percentage of people in poverty was the slice containing Northwestern, with 40.9% of individuals in poverty. (http://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-Evanston-Illinois.html) This is understandable, as college students are focused on studying, so they have little time for a job.

    There is a higher wage inequality index than average for Niles and Evanston Townships PUMA, IL, at 0.515 compared to a national average of 0.485, with 0 being total equality and 1 being total inequality.

    It is worth nothing that, despite white district 65 students scoring 3.9 grades ahead of average, Evanston’s black and Hispanic students score 0.1 and 0.6 grade levels below average. (This attainment gap correlates with an income gap as seen here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/04/29/upshot/money-race-and-success-how-your-school-district-compares.html) Evanston can be located by mousing over the pink dot at the upper right hand corner. It is the highest-placed dot on the graph. The achievement gap might be partially addressed by policies that support the development of a more robust middle class.

    It does seem that the high cost of living has squeezed out some of Evanston’s middle class, and I’d argue that the remaining middle class is less diverse because of this.

    1. Data?

      I think you are positing at the end of your comment that for a given income level, minorities are less likely than whites to live in higher-cost communities like Evanston.

      It would be interesting to see data regarding that hypothesis.

      The financial ability to live in a community is based both on current income and accumulated assets — assets that can be used, for example, to make a larger down payment on a house and thereby reduce monthly payments.

      And there is ample data showing that minorities are less likely than whites to have substantial accumulated assets.

      So your hypothesis seems plausible.

      But what to do about the cost of living here?

      We need to recognize that the cost of living in communities varies in large part because of the the presence in certain communities of desirable physical and cultural features.

      The cost of living in Evanston is higher than the national average at least in part because we're on the shore of Lake Michigan, are the site of a major university and have easy mass-transit access to jobs in downtown Chicago.

      People are willing to pay more to live in proximity to those features.

      But the cost of living can also vary because of public policies that restrict the amount and size of available housing stock. Successful efforts last decade to block redevelopment of a former college site in Evanston with 128 multi-family housing units and instead build 19 homes priced at over $1 million each is one example of a public policy decision that impacted the availability of middle-income housing in Evanston.

      And the continuing opposition to tall buildings and higher density housing development all over Evanston has a major adverse impact on middle income housing availability.

      Yet we rarely see residents turn out at public meetings to speak in favor of a new high-rise development, while opponents are always well represented.

      — Bill

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