Public wages in perspective

The news: In March, Wisconsin legislators passed a bill restricting public-sector workers’ collective bargaining rights. Behind the news: Chicago residents who work in the public sector earn 9 percent more on average than their private-sector counterparts, but the situation is reversed when comparing incomes of only those who hold high-paying jobs, according a Chicago Reporter analysis of census data. In job categories with an average salary of more than $65,000, private-sector workers in Chicago made 13 percent more than those who work for city or county governments. These jobs include positions such as chief executives, lawyers, judges and physicians. But public-sector workers made 32 percent more than their private-sector counterparts in jobs with an average salary of $35,000 or less—including jobs as housekeepers, receptionists and file clerks.

Census shows racial changes

The news: The first batch of results from the 2010 Census was released in December. Behind the news: Eight wards in Chicago had a shift in racial majority, according to a Chicago Reporter analysis of census data from 2005 to 2009. Three racially mixed wards–”the 40th, 46th and 48th–”and one majority-Latino ward–”the 1st–”became majority-white, while two majority-black wards–”the 2nd and 27th–”and one majority-white ward–”the 50th–”shifted to being racially mixed. Another majority-white ward–”the 13th–”became majority-Latino. Dick Simpson, head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, attributed the increase of majority-white wards to gentrification in the past decade.

Food stamps go a longer way

The news: The U.S. Census Bureau reported in September that 11.7 million households reported participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps–”a 19.8 percent increase from the previous year. Behind the news: The use of food stamps saw an increase of more than 20 percent among Asian and Latino households in Cook County between July 2009 and July 2010, according to a Chicago Reporter analysis of the Illinois Department of Human Services data. African-American and white families, meanwhile, saw modest increases of 7 percent and 13 percent, respectively, during the same period. “I would look at these numbers and certainly be concerned that the economy isn’t picking up and maybe is getting worse particularly for Asians and Latinos,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, an assistant professor who studies children’s health and food consumption at Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research. But Schanzenbach added that the increased participation in the food stamp program is a positive sign that people who need help are getting signed up more effectively–”a fact she attributed to more effective outreach efforts to educate and enroll families in need.

Minority nurses show weak pulse

The news: In August, City Colleges of Chicago announced it is closing two nursing programs because of an accreditation problem and phasing students into the remaining four school campuses. Behind the news: African Americans and Latinos are underrepresented among 86,300 registered nurses working in Chicago, according to a Chicago Reporter analysis of 2008 census data. African Americans made up only 24 percent of Chicago nurses while they are one-third of the Chicago working population. Latinos are 27 percent of the working population but only 7 percent of nurses. Loraine Moreno, president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses’ Illinois chapter, said the numbers were lower than she expected.

Excessive force, payouts

The news: A federal jury convicted former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge of perjury and obstruction in June after he denied torturing suspects during a civil lawsuit seven years ago. Since the verdict, two lawsuits were filed against Burge and the City of Chicago for abuse and wrongful conviction. Behind the news: In 2009, the city paid almost $10.5 million for judgments and settlements in lawsuits involving excessive force by police officers, according to a Chicago Reporter analysis of records from the Chicago Department of Law. The 10-year total payout for more than 650 excessive-force lawsuits in Chicago was almost $47.7 million. Last year’s payout was not only the highest in 10 years, but also more than the total amount paid between 2000 and 2005.