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Chicago, Indiana

A family of three including a four-year-old child moves from Rogers Park in the city's Far North Side to Hammond, Indiana; a move from a two-bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom house with a large backyard. The Puerto Rican father and Korean mother do not know exactly know what to expect in a place like Hammond, but they do know that the area will not offer the degree of diversity or access to Lake Michigan as Rogers Park had offered to their four-year-old son. Given the rising cost of rent, however, they decide that their best shot at homeownership is outside of Chicago. Despite crossing county and state lines, though, some would consider their move within proximity of the metropolitan area.

Many researchers and policymakers have emphasized the importance of regionalism for the past couple of decades. Regionalism means to consider Chicago as a metropolitan area beyond its city limits and to include its surrounding counties when it comes to planning and development. But what makes up this larger area?

Increasingly, the answer is Indiana.

Redefining Chicagoland.
Those who have been studying Chicago for the past few decades are quite familiar with the term "six-county area," which includes Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties. The federal government, however, has not recognized the six-county area as the official Chicago metropolitan area for well over a decade. Although the city itself has had its ups and downs, it is relatively well known that the metropolitan area has been growing in population for the past century. As matter of fact, according to 2006 Census estimates, the area has gained nearly 350,000 residents - an increase of 3.8 percent, since 2000. In the same time frame, the city of Chicago has lost population.

Less well-known, though, is the fact that the geographical shape of the official metropolitan area has also changed in that time. In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau defined the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) to be 13-counties strong; the six counties that previously defined the MSA plus DeKalb, Kankakee, Kendall, Grundy, Lake (Ind.), Porter (Ind.) and Kenosha (Wisc.) counties. As of 2005, the definition changed again: Kankakee County fell out while two more counties in Indiana - Jasper and Newton - were added.

This seemingly minor change in geography had an interesting impact on the Chicago metropolitan area population. If the 2000 boundary was kept for 2006, the population count would have been 9,568,249 as of 2006. Instead, the Census Bureau reported the Chicago MSA to have 9,506,859. This means the area arguably grew by 4.5 percent since 2000 rather than the 3.8 percent reported by the Census Bureau. It may appear to be counterintuitive to have lost 61,390 people - including close to 5,000 fewer school kids, approximately 6,700 fewer immigrants, and about 7,700 fewer senior citizens - when it gained one more county through the change. But the two Indiana counties that were added in 2005 had fewer residents combined than the county that was dropped, Kankakee. In 2006, Kankakee County had grown by 5.1 percent to 109,090 residents since 2000. The Census Bureau did not report those areas with population below 65,000 residents, and Jasper and Newton Counties were well below that criterion.

Further comparison between the old and the new geography finds a number of important disparities: In a state where racial politics are prevalent, the metropolitan area ended up with close to 43,000 fewer whites, about 14,000 fewer African Americans, and close to 5,000 fewer Hispanics. Also, there are 23,700 fewer housing units including about 17,600 owner-occupied units in the new geography. The new area appears to have fewer households that are poor and more that are affluent. Though the median income has not changed, the new geography contains approximately 2,000 fewer households with income below $15,000 while close to 8,500 households with household income over $100,000 were added. This can potentially impact the family of three moving from Rogers Park to purchase a home in Hammond. The area they desire to live in may be a middle-income area by one geographical definition and low-income on the other, which can determine different mortgage programs and purchasing power.

The way these boundaries change is certainly not arbitrary, but it fails to capture the unique characteristics of each metropolitan area. And it is quite possible that the Census Bureau may not incorporate local input when they redraw boundaries. This is particularly pertinent when an area contains three different states. Whether those who reside in Kankakee County are more Chicagoan than those who live in Jasper or Newton Counties is not as significant as dollars and resources that are allocated based on (current) population estimates. Federal funding and the local labor market are largely impacted by having fewer children or 6,700 fewer immigrants.

When an area contains such a wide geographical range, it is bound to contain vastly different people and areas of residence. Farmers and yuppies as well as retirement compounds and housing projects are often found within a single boundary. Maintaining a reasonable quality of living for all residents without isolating any groups or people is the question that remains unseen.


Kiljoong Kim is Research Director with the Egan Urban Center and a lecturer of sociology at DePaul University. For more Kiljoong, see the Who We Are archive.


Posted on October 23, 2007

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