Thin Margins

In August, as Tyrone Hudson gathered the money he planned to give to his 7-year-old son for school supplies, uniforms and private school tuition, he realized that his phone bill would have to go unpaid for the month. “My bills always have to compromise,” said Hudson, 29, a full-time clerk at a downtown law firm. “I’ve been trying to save up for a car, but there’s always a bill coming out of nowhere.” The prices of everything from gasoline to white bread have risen, exponentially in some cases. But the salaries many Chicagoans earn have not grown at the same rate.

Unequal Pay

Although opportunities in education and employment are open to women, African Americans, Latinos and Asians far more often than they were decades ago, wide gaps in pay along racial and gender lines remain in Chicago. According to a Chicago Reporter analysis of 2000 Census data, among year-round, full-time workers, whites in Chicago averaged $15,000 to $25,000 more in earnings than Asians, African Americans and Latinos. And, while whites more often worked in professional or high-paying jobs, the gaps existed even when individuals worked the same jobs or had the same education. Among full-time, year-round workers living in Chicago in 2000, whites averaged nearly $52,000 a year, while Asians averaged about $37,000; African Americans $33,500; and Latinos about $27,250. Similar gaps were found along gender lines; women averaged about $8,000 less in earnings than men, according to the Reporter’s analysis.

Big Promises

With jobs and retailers scarce in the West Side’s Austin neighborhood, some residents there are eager for the opening of a controversial Wal-Mart, which will be the first ever to open its doors within Chicago’s city limits. When told of Wal-Mart’s $10-an-hour base pay, Austin resident Mae Binniefield’s eyes widened. “That’s good,” she said pursing her lips. “I used to make $6.50 an hour at my old job.” Binniefield, 66, who has lived in Austin for more than 30 years, said she took that job because it was better than nothing.

One Strike, You’re Out

Mario Pacheco’s adolescence had its ups and downs. Pacheco, 23, admits he made the mistake four years ago of picking the wrong set of friends to hang out with. One of them, he said, was carrying marijuana and dropped it in Pacheco’s car. The police discovered its residue during a traffic stop in February 2001, and Pacheco was charged with possession. He pleaded guilty and received one year of “supervision,” a sentence considered lesser than probation.