Wealth and Inequality Along Chicago’s El

A ride on the El by income, from the wealthiest stations (Linden and the Western Blue Line Stop) to the poorest (Pulaski, on the Green Line).

CTA car

Photo: Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune

One of my friends, @muziejus, was so taken with the New Yorker’s map of the New York subway by median income that he made his own. It’s not quite as fancy looking, but it’s still really interesting.


He also did some analysis of it:

In short, the graphs affirm most of what we already knew. Though I also was not expecting the Blue Line to be so much nicer between Western and Grand than it is in the Loop.

There’s also at least one startling hiccup: the huge dive in median income at the Sedgwick stop on the Brown and Purple Lines. I double checked everything, and that’s the correct tract number. I can only guess that there’s a residual effect of Cabrini-Green’s ghost that’s pulling that number down.

It’s true: the second-highest median income by El stop is Western on the Blue Line ($106,759, statistically insignficant from Linden on the Purple Line at $106,765). This surprised us—it’s much higher than Damen*. But I think I get it. Here’s the specific census tract that includes the Western stop:

The Western stop is just barely in the census tract around Ehrler Park. And that’s a pricey area. Just browsing around on Zillow, it contains lots of expensive, post-crash single-family home sales: $622,500 in March; $855,000 in August 2010; $1.035 million in May 2012; and so forth. More than half the households in that tract (NB: the margin of error is significant, so take it with a grain of salt) make more than $100k.

But if the Western stop was included in the census tract immediately to the west—which it’s partially in—the median income would fall to $66,087. Only 33 percent of households make more than $100,000.

As to the Sedgwick stop near Old Town (median income $14k, mean income $61k), it is where Cabrini-Green used to be. But he’s using 5-year American Community Survey estimates, which take a rolling sample from 2007-2011. Parts of Cabrini-Green still existed in 2007. According to the ACS data, over 1,000 families make less than $15k; a little less than 500 make more than $100k.

In the tract immediately to the east, the median is $91k and the mean is $138k. There, almost 500 households make more than $200k. The ACS happened to catch the tract around Sedgwick during a period of profound change.

* The median income around the Damen stop is about $100k. But the two tracts on the other side of North Avenue from the Damen stop have median incomes of $167,240 (with a mean of almost $250k) and $141k. Which is worth keeping in mind: the data (including the New Yorker​’s data) covers the census tract the stop is in, not necessarily what you’d consider to be “around” the stop.


1 year ago
Posted by Lala

Thanks for posting this, but the lowest median income is not the Pulaski greeline stop. If you slide the redline tab past 22nd street Cermack, you'll see the 47th street stop has an income of $11,610, lower than the Pulaski greenline's $12,356. Please correct. Thanks.

1 year ago
Posted by alexdane436

I'm confused with the term "Inequality" in the headline. Is there a suggestion that there is wrong doing in the wealth distribution along the EL lines?

1 year ago
Posted by SSaint

I'll play along for giggles: Inequality means lacking in equality, i.e. income across train lines is not equal.

1 year ago
Posted by drinksonme

I agree with Lala. Some of the poorest areas in the city are south of 35th Street on the Red Line. From 47th to 95th Street wasn't included. Even riding the train, you can see the dilapidated or boarded up houses along the Dan Ryan.

Additionally, the southern portion of the Green Line wasn't included as well - Cottage Grove, Halsted, King Drive and Ashland.

Why only include the north and west sides?

1 year ago
Posted by afh4

All the stops are included; you need to scroll the graph to the right. On a mac, you can do it by holding your cursor over it and dragging your fingers left or right. I don't know about a PC.

It's annoying there's not a scroll bar.

1 year ago
Posted by Babbs

People who ride el lines don't need a graph to know what condition certain inner city neighborhoods are in.

1 year ago
Posted by tswkr

Are you sure the two 'Western' and 'Harlem' stops weren't combined accidentally in a pivot table? The Forest Park Branch Western and Harlem stops are not on the chart and both have a definite 'bump'. I haven't checked the data, but it looks like they were accidentally combined.

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