Chicago for a cerebral, single, middle-aged black woman?
April 29, 2021 5:37 PM   Subscribe

I've always wanted to live in Chicago. Two concerns: violence and taxes. How much should I be concerned about those? And if not Chicago, where?

I will do my level best to make this as concise as possible.

Relevant details: I will be 51 in June. Firmly in the midst of an existential crisis and working on that with a therapist.

I’m a single woman, childless, African American, attorney. Raised in Brooklyn (and then the Midwest). Been living in Phoenix since 2006. I have enjoyed certain aspects of living here but the place is extremely homogenous, and if you’re not into hiking/biking/running, there can be a dearth of cultural activities.

About a year before the pandemic began, I ended an eight-year relationship with a man I thought I might marry (It is ultimately a good thing that we did not). That launched a year of depression/soul searching, that coincided with the isolation and anxiety of the pandemic. One of the very few close friends I had here in Phoenix moved back to Miami to be closer to family. I have precious few other social connections here and the pandemic made it nearly impossible to establish new ones. I’ve had an incredibly lonely year despite the fact that I do have quite a few friends in other areas of the country.

This past February, I sold my house with a plan to move to Chicago. Even though I’m a New Yorker, I’ve always found Chicago to be the more livable city (don’t tell) and I love the architecture, relative affordability, food and variety. I know a handful of people there and thought it might be easier for me to make some new friends and hopefully, actually go on a date with a man who reads! I am currently renting while I decide what’s next.

During the pandemic, the violence in Chicago just seemed to be – out of control. Carjackings increased and due to the lack of traffic in more walkable areas, there also seemed to be a bunch of street-level robberies, etc. I know about the pervasiveness of the gang culture (and find it heartbreaking that there is no solution and so many young people of color are victims) but this current rash of violence doesn’t seem to fit the typical “it’s happening on the south/west side” scenario. I am not naïve to the pervasiveness of segregation/economic and social disenfranchisement in the city. And again, having grown up in Brooklyn, I know how to get my game face on when necessary.

My questions, particularly for single women:

1. How much does the city’s crime affect you on a day-to-day basis? Do you find yourself not going out alone in the evenings? I'm quite comfortable leaving my home whenever I want now. What about the carjackings? Has that affected your comings and goings?

Next up, taxes:

My financial planner and I have calculated that I’m gonna be working for … a long time. But there is an actual retirement plan in the offing. The money-savvy members of my family have chastised me for considering Chicago, considering Illinois’ notoriously high state taxes.

Question for those of you planning for retirement: Does your long-term plan include leaving Illinois once you stop working? Am I downplaying the impact taxes might have on my retirement income?


If not Chicago, what other place would be a good fit for a fairly cerebral middle aged woman (going back to NYC is not an option).

Thanks for your indulgence.
posted by simonelikenina to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a tax expert, but my retired family member in Illinois frequently touts that retirement income is not taxed by the state, which I between them and their spouse includes a pension, social security and 401k/IRA. This link seems to confirm that.
posted by Advanced_Waffler at 6:20 PM on April 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

People talk a lot about Chicago's crime. Well, conservatives do.

Please look at the comparison between Wichita and Chicago

Orlando vs Chicago

Chicago vs Salt lake city

Property crime is fairly low and I think the violent crime is isolated.

I love Chicago and it is the one place not on the Northeast Coast or West coast I would consider. It's an awesome city. Good luck !
posted by ReluctantViking at 6:21 PM on April 29, 2021 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I don't have all of the answers to your questions, but a couple of thoughts/points:

1. The crime issue is very dependent on which neighborhood you live in. I live in a safe neighborhood on the north side and violent crime is not something that I worry about in any kind of day-to-day way. Sure, something crazy can always happen anywhere in a big city, but shootings/murders/etc. are extremely rare. There are a number of "homicide maps" of Chicago that you can find on google -- here is one. You will see that homicides are concentrated in parts of the west side and south side neighborhoods. In some north side neighborhoods, there have been a handful of murders -- like 3 -- versus ~50 in neighborhoods like Austin this year. You're right that there seems to have been an uptick in other crime throughout the city - i.e., carjackings and things like that - but I don't think the fundamental dynamic of much safer neighborhoods on the north side versus much less safe neighborhoods on the south and west sides has really changed. So, you may want to add to your question with which neighborhoods you are considering. And of course, this is all more complicated if you want a racially diverse neighborhood - unfortunately, most of the safer neighborhoods are the least diverse. Hyde Park, Evanston, Oak Park, and perhaps Edgewater/Rogers Park are places where friends of mine have moved who were seeking diversity plus livable neighborhoods.

2. As far as taxes, I'm not sure you're thinking about this correctly. For one thing, IL is one of the few big states with an income tax that does not tax retirement income. Now, that might not last, because the state needs more tax revenue, but at least right now there are not high taxes for retired people. The other thing is that Illinois' state income tax isn't really high either - it's a 4.95% flat tax, which isn't high except compared to FL or other "no tax" states. Chicago does have high property taxes and sales taxes, so that's bad, but it's mitigated at least a bit by the rest of this paragraph.

Honestly, my biggest problem with Chicago as a retirement destination is the weather!
posted by Mid at 6:25 PM on April 29, 2021 [8 favorites]

I love Chicago and I don't feel unsafe here at all. And I say that as someone who once got mugged here! (I've had similar experiences in other major cities around the world. I took it as a city thing, not a Chicago thing.) As other people above say, the popular representation of Chicago as hyper-violent is political and, to be honest, very racist. So I guess I'd say you really don't have to worry about the narratives of gangs or car-jackings too much, or be concerned that this is any more dangerous a place than other big cities.

That said, I am a white woman and Chicago is much more segregated than New York, so unfortunately you may well have a completely different experience to me if you lived here. I think the most useful answers you will get are from other women of color,. Particularly in terms of what it's like to live in different neighborhoods where there might be few other people of color. I know people who live on the South Side and adore it, and get very angry when (white) people write-off that whole side of the city as inherently dangerous. And others who live in fancy neighborhoods on the North Side and feel scared going into their own apartment building because a Karen may accuse them of breaking in to their own home.
posted by EllaEm at 6:42 PM on April 29, 2021

My concern about IL taxes is not that they are high, it's that they are the 8th most regressive in the country, in terms of distributing post-tax money from the poor to the rich. That is, IL taxes make the rich richer and the poor poorer, and they are among the worst states in that regard.

From what I guess about your situation, you may be a few ticks ahead in terms of tax burden, compared to AZ at rank 11. Certainly you won't be much much worse off, and can expect things to be roughly comparable from a state take perspective, assuming roughly similar income.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:59 PM on April 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

They’re regressive largely because they are flat and retirement income is not taxed. That may well be bad policy, but that doesn’t really inform whether the taxes are relatively higher or lower for a specific person as compared to another state. As an example, CA is listed as the most equitable state on the linked paper, but without question, many taxpayers would pay higher taxes in CA than IL. As I understand it, the question is about a specific person’s relative tax burden in one state versus others, not the overall policy soundness of the tax system.
posted by Mid at 7:37 PM on April 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

Just to go completely off on a tangent if you are looking to find community, low taxes, and a place with cultural scene that's not focused on health trends may I suggest New Orleans. Its got all the cultural benefits of a big city with the neighborlyness of a small town. Also winter is exactly one weekend long.
posted by edbles at 7:46 PM on April 29, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Preface: white mid-40s woman living on the northwest side.

Crime does not affect my day-to-day. A lot of that probably comes from the privilege I have to walk by a police officer and assume I won’t be targeted by them because of my gender and skin color. That said, I don’t walk down alleys at night, and don’t wear headphones when I’m out alone, even during the day. I also don’t take my entire wallet or a nice purse if I’m going for a walk. I think that’s more big city common sense than Chicago-specific and it sounds like you have that spider-sense to know that. I do not own a car so while car jacking increases are alarming, I see them happening in the suburbs and other states as well right now. My assumption is it’s a nation-wide trend.

Most of the gang crime and shootings happen in a very small few areas, that’s true. We also get a random person shooting strangers or raping women in “nice” neighborhoods too, but that is much less often. Chicago has has a bad rap on crime for as long as I’ve been alive. Twenty+ years ago when I traveled abroad and said I was from Chicago the reply was either “Al Capone!” Or Michael Jordan!” The news plays up the crime for sure, to the point that my suburban mother thinks the city is too dangerous now (but for no concrete reason).

Taxes… ugh. Everyone I know above 55 in this state talks about moving or not buying more property in Illinois. I think others have covered this better, but I think the biggest tax issue people have is with property taxes which are way higher than a lot of places. My sister pays $3k in Denver on her property tax whereas a similar home in Chicago is more like $12k. We have a lot of cop settlements to pay out, a lot of government pensions, a lot of grift and mismanagement. We also have a lot more public transportation and other things (like those cultural institutions!) that cost money. Oh yeah, also if you buy anything in the city you’re paying 10.25% sales tax which is the highest in the nation. Once you drive out to the suburbs that gets down in the 7’s.

My long term retirement plan included staying here, maybe getting a tiny cabin in Wisconsin or Michigan. I was hoping that the recent unrest and all would get everyone else to flee so I could finally buy a house but the super tight housing market here does not support the “everyone is fleeing Illinois and cities” narratives I hear.

I love Chicago, and live here because at my heart feel I’m a Chicagoan. But if I was starting fresh I’d probably hit up Colorado or the Pacific Northwest just because it’s so beautiful and nothing geographically is like that anywhere close.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:10 PM on April 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hey, everybody talking about crime in Chicago -- the OP is concerned about crime since the pandemic which, honestly, has become worse in a lot of places. The anecdotal/feel information is interesting, but it would be cool to hear about how it has or hasn't changed since spring 2020.

A Chicago Fan who thinks about moving back
posted by amtho at 9:01 PM on April 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have never lived in Chicago, but I've visited enough to highly, achingly love the city. It's the best.

Oh, Chicago: the people, downtown, the lake. It's as dramatic an American city as you could possibly choose to live in.

Investigate remotely and then visit in person. It is a super sweet place. Give it every benefit of the doubt. I am happy where I live now, but if that changed, Chicago would be right at the top of my list. Enjoy discovering Chicago.
posted by Scarf Joint at 9:31 PM on April 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Preface: White woman, living on Chicago south side

On a day to day level I don't feel like crime has changed much, fwiw. I think about the car jackings because I've heard about them, but it hasn't changed my behavior. My car was broken into outside my workplace once in five years, and it costs more to park in the garage per month than it does to replace my window, so I still park on the street.

I am on the relaxed side, I walk one to two blocks at night regularly and have definately walked alone regularly without problems in the past. I have been told not to do this by people though, so I get the impression that I tend to have less anxiety about these things than others .I can tell you among the hard hit crime neighborhood areas that people can be very nervous about traveling at night, or at least I have been told so many times. But, much of the crime in Chicago is fairly concentrated, and where you live makes a huge change in perception in how one experiences Chicago. Many people Uber home if they are out late instead of taking the CTA, but there is also limited service depending on where you are located as well. I've taken the CTA late at night when I've had to and it was fine.

Sales tax is huge here. Huge. Taxes on gas too of you plan to drive . From a solely financial perspective it's probobly not the best place, but I'm not going anywhere .

I'd recommend it, I love it here. I would not live in a city with major flood risks and hurricanes (no Miami, no new Orleans). I also don't want to live in a place where it can get extremely hot.

Wish you luck!
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:46 AM on April 30, 2021

Best answer: The Chicago Reader just published a long analysis of the car-jacking issue if you're interested in diving deep. It's coming more form the perspective of questioning the "it's out of control youth" narrative but reading it also makes you question the police claims and motivation behind them. (Surprise, surprise.)
While carjacking had spiked, last year saw 21,567 fewer robberies, burglaries, and thefts compared to 2019. This was part of a yearslong trend in the decline of these types of crimes. About 18,000 parked, unattended cars are stolen every year in Illinois, and that hadn't become more common in 2020
I am also a middle aged white woman on the northwest side, so YMMV. For me, it's kind of hard to say how different Chicago feels, safety-wise, because I'm not really leaving my goddamned house during the pandemic. Might the empty streets feel less safe? Probably, but I'm also not out there walking them. FWIW, I do have dogs that I take on walks and go for a run once or twice a week in the early morning hours and haven't felt any more unsafe than usual in the last year. But I also haven't been commuting or going out at night so it's hard to say, fully. Occasionally I'll hear about a shooting in/near my neighborhood but it seems more to be people chasing each other through the area than anything involving residents. Obviously that varies by neighborhood and sometimes block by block.

As much as I hate a super crowded bus or train they do feel safer than empty ones; all of my obnoxious flasher moments on the El (every woman has one, I think) were on emptier cars. But those were also years ago when I was younger and more worth harassing, apparently. I've only been on CTA once since last March so I can't speak to how that feels from a safety perspective.

If it helps, Chicago feels to be rapidly approaching pre-pandemic levels of street traffic, and I would imagine pedestrian and transit activity will soon follow. So any increase in opportunistic crime due to fewer "eyes on the street" will probably go back to normal soon. Crime driven more by desperation, gang activity, and poverty (more likely to be in certain neighborhoods) may not, as the economic, structural, and mental health impacts of the pandemic will be long-lasting.

Regarding taxes, I own a modest house and my taxes are nowhere near 12k a year; more like 5k. I'm not sure if there are certain neighborhoods that are getting those crazy high taxes in the city, though I do know from talking to coworkers that some of the inner ring suburbs like Oak Park definitely approach that higher tax level.

I absolutely love living here. But it can also be very heartbreaking, especially because so many of our politicians talk like they are progressive but in practice turn out to be very pro-police and don't seem to be very effective in actually accomplishing real change in the city. And this goes beyond policing and crime to things like investing in education, transit, accessibility, pedestrian and bike infrastructure, affordable housing, etc. Some folks are trying but progress is frustratingly slow. On the other hand, the activists and especially youth activists here are absolutely amazing and inspiring.
posted by misskaz at 4:38 AM on April 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Unpopular opinion on MeFi: I never felt safe in Chicago. I lived there for many years but my quality of life was marred by the constant vigilance I had to keep. People say you have to be careful in any big city; well, I’ve lived in several big cities, including Brooklyn, and there’s something about Chicago that is a bit worse. It was like the fog of fear lifted from my brain when I left.

I lived in the South Side. Yes, the Loop and almost all the North Side feels sanitized and safe. Yes, if you take Ubers or drive everywhere, it feels safe. But I didn’t have much money then and exclusively used public transit, often at night, even to get to the airport and things like that. Nothing major happened to me, but there were some unsavory incidents, including a mugging. There was a violent stranger rape in the building next to mine. My acquaintance, a student from Africa, was shot dead in a mugging gone wrong. Once, while I was taking the bus from the Loop back home, a young black woman sat next to me and curiously asked why I chose to live in the unsafe South Side because she assumed from my race that I didn’t have to. She said she was going to move away as soon as she could.

I agree that conservatives focus way too much on crime in Chicago, but liberals also have a knee jerk response to defending it and brushing the crime under the rug often just because that the cool, liberal thing to do. The most vocal about how safe things were in my friends circle in Chicago? Largely white and male. Owned a car. Never took a bus. Never walked more than a block in the South Side. How convenient. Check one’s privilege indeed.

The poster asked for opinions and experiences, so that’s mine. I’m not a conservative and have zero political agenda.
posted by redlines at 5:06 AM on April 30, 2021 [6 favorites]

Hey, everybody talking about crime in Chicago -- the OP is concerned about crime since the pandemic which, honestly, has become worse in a lot of places. The anecdotal/feel information is interesting, but it would be cool to hear about how it has or hasn't changed since spring 2020. Well I think the point is that people haven't noticed any difference.

The Reader article reminds me that there are some great local newspapers here that might help you get a sense of how crime levels are being reported in the city. Chicago Block Club is one, and The Chicago Reader again.
posted by EllaEm at 5:59 AM on April 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

As others have noted, the crime issue is pretty location-dependent, as it is in every other large US city. Chicago's crime has been overblown by conservatives largely because Chicago is a more-or-less Democratic island in a conservative state, and they don't like the influence it has on the policies of the state. Of course, that's what happens when a huge chunk of your state's population lives on that island.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:44 AM on April 30, 2021

Response by poster: Appreciate each perspective here, and the links to additional resources. I think I'm putting Chicago back on the list. Thanks, everyone.
posted by simonelikenina at 8:54 AM on April 30, 2021

There are lots of different Chicagos. My wife and I have lived in East Lakeview near the lake for 9 years with nary a problem at all (white and in our early fifties). The only thing I worry about is getting run over by a car, particularly the police, at 6 way intersections.

The consumer taxes are high and the rent in nicer areas are higher but not NY or SF high but you can get walkable neighborhoods with great parks and an inland sea out of the deal. It's a proper city with all the things you could want in a city without some of unpleasant things you get in other cities - like sidewalks piled high with garbage.
posted by srboisvert at 7:47 AM on May 3, 2021

« Older What historical models did contemporaries compare...   |   Please explain finance stuff to me Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.