Mayor Rahm Emanuel has rolled out a stream of what he’s billed as pro-business initiatives and stood with dozens of corporations making jobs announcements during his first two years in office, but a clear majority of voters in a new Tribune/WGN-TV poll don’t think he’s done enough to revitalize the city’s economy.
Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed gave a thumbs-down to the mayor’s economic development efforts, compared to 28 percent who said they were satisfied.
Those findings may reflect the continued high jobless rate in Chicago, where U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics show unemployment was 10.4 percent in March. That’s the same level as March 2011, though it’s also a full percentage point less than the 11.4 percent rate when Emanuel took office in May 2011.
Dissatisfaction with the mayor on the economy stretched across all lines of race, ethnicity, income, age and gender.
Those who most significantly disapprove of Emanuel’s work to enhance economic growth are African-American, lower-income and younger voters. Fully 73 percent of black voters, 70 percent of voters earning under $50,000, and 69 percent of those from age 18 to 35 think Emanuel has not done enough.
Last year, the unemployment rate for Illinois teens was 27 percent, 15 percent for those in their early 20s and 16 percent for the state’s African-American residents of all ages.
Because of strides in automation and technology, “coming out of recovery, companies find they don’t need to hire,” said Kurt Rankin, an economist for PNC Financial Services Group, who noted younger workers who are new to the job market tend to feel the brunt of it.
African-American voters have become more negative in their view of Emanuel’s overall job performance. The disapproval among younger voters also is politically troubling for a mayor who has sought to make Chicago a center for startups by taking steps to encourage graduates of the region’s universities to settle here, rather than head to either coast.
At a business gathering Thursday, for instance, Emanuel talked up the development of protected bike lanes near the 1871 tech hub and the decision to give 250 free tickets to this summer’s Lollapalooza music festival to University of Illinois engineering students so they will check out the city.
“We have funded the West Coast out here: I’m done doing it,” he said, drawing applause at the event for midsize businesses.
Setting the stage for job growth has been a major component of Emanuel’s agenda, including development of a 10-point plan, the wooing of 14 company headquarters and the launch of programs aimed at cutting city red tape.
“I don’t create jobs,” Emanuel said at Thursday’s program. “I create the environment, the atmosphere and the platform for success in the private sector.”
But even among voters who said they approve of Emanuel’s overall job performance as mayor, 52 percent said he has not done enough to improve the city’s economic climate. The poll of 800 Chicago voters has an error margin of 3.5 percentage points. Interviewers conducted the phone survey from April 30 to May 6 as Emanuel approached the middle of his first term, a time when attitudes toward the mayor have become more hardened as voters look for results from City Hall.
In attempting to reshape the selling of Chicago to outside businesses, Emanuel has restacked various economic development groups with leadership from allies in his own circle of wealthy venture capitalists.
World Business Chicago, the city’s business attraction arm, is headed by Michael Sacks, CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management LP, who regularly advises Emanuel. Another adviser, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, had until recently headed up Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism marketing arm. Rauner gave up the post as he heads toward an expected run for the Republican nomination for governor.
And Emanuel has fostered myriad relationships with corporate citizens. On the one hand, he’s tapped them for financial support on such projects as hosting the NATO conference or tackling the city’s homicide problem, and on the other hand, he’s stepped up with them to announce plans to open stores, add jobs or participate in city projects.
His calendars typically are full of appointments with Chicago business titans. And his campaign has drawn broad support from businesspeople, including some who require city permits to move ahead with projects. Emanuel has said their backing does not influence his decision-making.
The poll found that slightly more than 4 in 10 voters said Emanuel’s relationship with business was “about right.” While the mayor has developed a lengthy list of business connections, 27 percent of the voters polled said they thought he was not close enough. Only 17 percent of the survey group said they thought Emanuel was too close to the city’s business community.
A closer look at the numbers shows 36 percent of African-American voters and 42 percent of Latino voters said they thought Emanuel’s relationship with business was not close enough. That may reflect the belief that closer ties between the mayor and business would lead to more job opportunities.
“They probably are the people who have more to lose in a stagnant economy,” said Allen Sanderson, a University of Chicago economist.
To his mind, Emanuel’s performance on economic development should be judged in the same way as Olympic diving, in which the degree of difficulty plays a role.
Inheriting a City Hall without much left in the piggy bank in a state with horrendous fiscal problems during a period of economic weakness “is as tough as it gets,” Sanderson said.
Chicago residents are unlikely to feel better off any time soon.
University of Chicago economics professor Austan Goolsbee, who worked with Emanuel in President Barack Obama’s White House and appeared with him on the panel Thursday, said he expects a national economic growth rate of 2 to 21/2 percent in the coming year.
That range “doesn’t feel that great and doesn’t make the job market improve that rapidly,” Goolsbee said.