The Duck-Billed Platypus of American Cities

Here are two posts about the city of my birth — first from City Journal then from the Manhattan Institute:

Its population declining, Chicago should focus on its core strengths—and forget about competing with New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco

Municipal-level census estimates released last week show that Chicago, alone among the nation’s 20 largest cities, is losing population. The news provoked another round of local handwringing—and denial. Pessimists point to the exodus of residents, rampant crime, and the city’s disastrous finances; optimists cite a massive boom in population, jobs, and construction in Chicago’s central business area. Both are correct—but in ways very different from superficially similar divides in coastal cities. Chicago is in some ways the duck-billed platypus of American cities—a wild amalgam of unique traits that make it impossible to categorize.

When it comes to population estimates, municipal-level data is largely irrelevant, especially when comparing cities with one another. That Houston may soon outpace Chicago in municipal population doesn’t mean that much—the city of Houston includes vast tracts of suburbia, making for an apples-to-oranges comparison. Chicago’s metro area is much larger than Houston’s and will remain the third-largest in the country for years to come. Similarly, while Chicago has the most murders in America, its murder rate is lower than other major cities like St. Louis, Baltimore, and Detroit. Comparisons with Detroit, with its hollowed-out economy, particularly infuriate Chicagoans, who reside in what remains a major economic center. And Detroit’s population loss far exceeds Chicago’s.

Read more: City Journal

The Real Cost of CPS Borrowing: District Now Owes $38,000 per Student

By all accounts, Chicago Public Schools has made significant academic progress over the last 15 years. Since 2003 the district’s proficiency rates on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam have more than doubled in math and have nearly doubled in reading.

But this progress is now threatened by severe financial mismanagement. The district faces a budget crisis driven by the rising cost of past, unpaid bills that is crowding out spending on today’s teachers and students.

CPS’ budget crisis was not created overnight. For more than a decade, the district has struggled with a widening structural budget deficit. Since 2001, inflation-adjusted spending per pupil increased by nearly 40 percent. In 2001, CPS spent close to $12,000 per student; in 2015, $16,432. Yet revenue has not kept pace: CPS per-pupil revenue has not matched per-pupil spending, with revenue falling short, on average, by $1,000 per pupil since 2001. More recently, the revenue gap has widened to nearly $3,000 per year.

Read more: Manhattan Institute

Image credit: Shutterstock/Copyright–Andrey Bayda.