Chicago, reflected. (Julian Boed/Flickr)

The New York Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation published an opinion poll Friday of residents of Chicago, a city that's currently wrestling with overlapping crises in its schools, police department, public finances, criminal justice system and city hall. "Residents of Chicago," writes the Times' Monica Davey, "appear to have lost faith in many of its essential institutions."

The results of the poll are bleak but not surprising, given long-building discontent with Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D), surging crime and a Justice Department investigation of the city's police. Nearly half of parents with children at home said they would like to leave the city. Three-quarters of all respondents said they believed the city had seriously gotten on the wrong track.

The data, though, is particularly revealing for what it says about the very different experiences in Chicago of blacks and whites, who, because of largely decades-old patterns of segregation, largely inhabit separate sides of the city. Whites and blacks offered bluntly different responses to many questions. Sixty-three percent of blacks said they thought the biggest problem facing the city was crime, violence or gangs; just 35 percent of whites said the same (they're more likely to cite economic and budget issues). Forty-six percent of blacks said they'd made changes to their daily routine as a result of the recent rise in violent crime; only about half as many whites report having done so.

Twenty-three percent of blacks said they believe they've been denied housing they could afford because of their race. Two percent of whites said the same.

Down to their experience of their own neighborhoods — and whether they believe the city services, parks and schools there are good — blacks and whites in Chicago have notably different perceptions. More than four in 10 blacks feel their neighborhoods are poor places to raise children. A third believe the availability of good public schools where they live is poor. Whites, on the hand, are more content even with the quality of their trash pickup:

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Likewise, whites and blacks feel the children in their neighborhoods have very different life prospects. More than half of blacks say they believe it's very likely a typical young person in their neighborhood will go to jail. Just one in 10 whites say the same.


The city's gravest problems — violence, struggling schools and concentrated poverty — are disproportionately experienced by blacks. In fact, it's possible to live in some North Side neighborhoods and remain entirely untouched by them. The difference between these two realities is the city's biggest challenge yet.