The State of the Union isn’t the only speech President Obama will give this week. On Friday, he’ll address the nation from Chicago. The speech will be about gun violence and murder in the nation’s third largest city and across the country.
Last year, Chicago had 506 homicides, the most since 2008. Per capita, that's worse than both New York City and Los Angeles. In January, 42 people were killed, setting a pace that would surpass 2012. In fact, gun violence is actually down across the city overall since the early '90s. But certain neighborhoods on the South and West sides of the city have been decimated by violence -- neighborhoods like Englewood. And it's not just the people who are suffering. The economy of Englewood has also been devastated.
An empty corner lot on 63rd Street
At one time, 63rd Street, a major east-west thoroughfare across the heart of Englewood, was a vibrant economic strip anchored by major department stores like Sears. Today, most major retailers, including the big grocery chains, have abandoned the area. Vacant lots, empty buildings and boarded-up businesses now dot the landscape where thriving enterprises once operated.
It’s not just 63rd Street. The same is true of just about any other commercial street in Englewood and many of the residential areas in the South Side as well. One reason is that Englewood has one of the highest homicide rates in the city. It also has one of the highest unemployment rates. Forty percent of the people who live there are unemployed. And for those who do work in Englewood, dealing with violence has now become part of the job.
“Yeah, I was here. I heard the shots, but I didn’t see what happened because I was in here working,” says the head barber at Headhunterz near 63rd Street, where a 20-year-old man was shot in the face three times just the day before.
“They had it all taped off yesterday,” says the barber, who didn’t want to give his name for fear of gang retaliation. That’s a very real concern since most of the violence in Englewood and other parts of the city is the result of warring gang factions competing for control of drug sale turf.
The view from the barber shop. A man was shot three times in front of the business.
The barber was willing to talk about how he's had to change the way he does business because of the violence. Unlike other barbershops, the Headhunterz front door is always locked and they do not take unknown walk-in customers. “If I don’t know you, that’s it, especially at certain hours,” says the barber. “I just don’t take them. It’s just not worth the risk.”
Such precaution is part of the cost of doing business in Englewood, which fewer and fewer people are willing to do anymore in the neighborhood.
Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, says that violence not only destroys business, but that every homicide in Chicago reduces the city's population by 70 people: people who may have occupied a now boarded-up home, owned an auto repair shop or grocery store or paid taxes that kept cops on the streets and kids in schools.
“One thing that happens when violence is driving people and business out of the city is that it obviously reduces the tax base, which denigrates the ability of the city government to address the violence problem, which generates more violence, which drives out more tax base,” Ludwig says.
“So that’s a very unfortunate cycle. What you wind up with in some of these very disadvantaged neighborhoods is even bigger concentrations of poverty, and all of that further fuels the risk of violence in the neighborhoods,” he says.
Ludwig estimates that the total social cost of violence in Chicago is $2.5 billion each year. And the common thread between cities with soaring murder rates is segregation -- both racial and economic. Englewood is almost entirely black and now almost entirely poor.
Syron Smith is an exception to that rule. The 37-year-old office manager owns a home near Englewood with his wife, Jamika, and their 15-month old daughter, Mariah. Smith may be middle-class now, but he grew up in high rise housing projects -- mostly black, mostly poor -- and definitely violent.
“I was born in ’75, so I remember at 6 years old , which was ’81, asking my mom, 'Why were blacks killing each other?'” says Smith.
It’s a question he and many others are still asking. It’s also a major reason that Smith spends almost all his free time as a community organizer, working to stop the violence in neighborhoods across the city. “The black community has to feel good again,” he says. “If you don’t feel good, you’re not trying to do nothing, you’re not motivated. With the beat down happening all the time in these neighborhoods, I tell them, ‘You’re in the oven, and the temperature’s high. When do you have time to feel good?’”
Syron Smith during a meeting with teens that he mentors
So, 12 years ago Smith founded National Block Club University and spends nights and weekends mentoring teens. He tries to make them feel good about themselves. He teaches them that education is the only way to break the cycle of violence in the community, and that education also leads to economic prosperity.
Fifteen-year old Melik Phipps and 13-year-old Khalil Stringer are two of the teens that Smith mentors. They understand that to do well in life, they've got to go to school. But they say getting an education in Englewood can be complicated sometimes. “I’m concerned that just walking home from school there might be a shooting somewhere in my area, and I’ll probably get shot,” says Phipps. “I’m very concerned about that.”
The violence weighs heavily on the boys. And they’ve seen what living with violence does to people.
“People just don’t feel safe going anywhere,” he says. “They have to watch their backs. They feel like they have to carry a weapon on them. They just don’t trust anyone who walks by them. People don’t seem too nice these days.”
It's hard for the boys to concentrate on the future when the present is so perilous.
But Khalil's got an idea he thinks could solve a few of Englewood's problems. “Like all these abandoned fields? They should make more libraries so that I could actually go somewhere in my neighborhood to concentrate,” he says.
It’s a small idea to help solve a giant problem. But maybe his generation is a good place to start.
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President Obama will visit Chicago this week as part of his tour promoting a plan to battle gun violence. In 2011, the state of Illinois recorded 452 murders, 83 percent of which were gun-related.
View an interactive map of gun crime data by state. Click to interact
Last year in 2012, the city of Chicago alone recorded over 500 dead -- which was twice as many as New York, and 200 more than Los Angeles. This January, the Windy City had the most homicides since 2002 -- 42 people killed.
This week, Marketplace's Sylvester Monroe reports from Englewood, a neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, which has one of the highest homicide rates in the city. Here's an economic breakdown of the area:
Average income: $11,993 (Chicago's is $27,148)
Poverty level: 42.2 percent
Unemployment rate: 21.3 percent
Percent without high school diploma: 29.4 percent
Violent crime ranking: From 11/26/12 to 12/26/2012, Englewood ranked 9th of 77 neighborhoods when it comes to homicides, assaults and rapes. Nineteen violent crimes over the time period were on the street or on a sidewalk. One was at a school and one was at a bus stop. There were 17 homicides in 2012.
Property crime rankings: From 11/26/12 to 12/26/2012, Englewood ranked 6th of 77 neighborhoods when it comes to thefts, car thefts and arson.
Quality of life crime rankings: From 11/26/12 to 12/26/2012, Englewood ranked 6th of 77 neighborhoods when it comes to narcotics, vandalism and prostitution crimes.
Other facts: Englewood has one of the highest concentrations of relocated project households that use housing vouchers on the private market; Of Englewood's 15,210 households, 274 were moved from the projects to Englewood between 1999 and 2010. That's 1.5 percent of households, one of the highest concentrations in the city.
Apple, the uber-successful maker of pods, pads and phones, is reportedly working on a watch with the functionality of a so-called “smart” device.
Apple won’t confirm in the report is true, but many who work in the mobile computing industry think such technology will be coming to a wrist near you, sooner rather than later.
In a way, it’s been here for a while.
Casio’s calculator watch has been around for decades, and in 2003, Microsoft unveiled a watch that gave sports scores and weather called SPOT for Smart Personal Object Technology.
But SPOT turned out to be a FLOP. So why would Apple’s version fare better?
"Apple has a pattern of taking a look at what technology is out there, but not working very well, and improving it to the point that consumers crave it,” says Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research.
Plus, a smart watch doesn’t have to replicate all the functionality of an iPhone or iPad to be appealing.
Ed Price, director of research partnerships at Georgia Tech, says a smart watch would likely work with, not in place of, current products.
“A phone call comes in. Your phone is silenced, but the caller ID information is on your watch display,” he says, describing how a so-called “smart” watch could function in a real-world setting. “So it actually makes your existing smartphone or iPad work better than it does right now.”
The question is how to make it. Price says the technology for a small, bendable display exists. Corning makes the glass used in the iPhone, and says it’s developed a type of bendable glass called Willow Glass.
The company would not say whether Apple is working with Corning to use the technology.
However it’s made, Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster says it’s coming.
“In Apple’s case, we think they’re always looking to find something better than their existing business, and this would fit that category,” he says.
Munster says smart watches and smart glasses are the two arenas where consumers are most likely to see new mobile computing technologies.
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The manhunt in southern California for ex-police officer Christopher Dorner has prompted a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture and conviction. It's one of the biggest rewards ever offered by a local government, and has already generated more than 600 tips.
The reward money was assembled from a unusual variety of sources, including the L.A. Dodgers baseball team, the F.B.I., six anonymous donors and lots of local governments. Los Angeles County is considering adding another $100,000 to the pot, according to spokesman Tony Bell.
“It’s a good investment,” Bell says. “It’s an investment in public safety and a cost savings from having to have a killer on the loose, more lives lost, more resources expended.”
Rewards can also bring publicity to a case, reaching people who might have valuable information, and giving them an incentive to come forward.
“It's -- how do I say this? -- free money,” says Gene Ferrara, a retired police man on the board of Crime Stoppers in Cincinnati. That group is part of a nationwide nonprofit that offers cash rewards raised by donations, to useful tipsters. “They're not out working hard digging a ditch for eight hours. They just provide information, and they get money for it.”
Ferrara says cash rewards lead to hundreds of arrests each year, many of which turn in to convictions.
Still, millions of dollars in reward money goes unclaimed around the country. Why would people turn down “free money”? For one, people fear risking their own safety if they get involved, and the bigger the reward, the harder it is to remain anonymous, says Ferrara.
“If it’s a million dollar reward, the IRS is going to want their cut. That’s income,” he says. “So the police department’s got to report who you are to the IRS. You can't be anonymous.”
There's another risk with a high price tag, says Adam Alter, a professor of marketing and psychology at New York University. If you’re a friend or family member of a suspect, and you’re on the fence about turning in someone you love, a big reward might actually backfire because “you're turning it in to an economic transaction for someone's freedom, which I think is for a lot of people quite offensive,” Alter said.
Alter suggests that sometimes it's better to keep money out of it, and let doing the right thing be its own reward.
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If you're looking for industries that have thrived despite the economy, a good place to go is Kentucky. That's where they make bourbon, of course. Sales of the uniquely American spirit are growing by triple digits outside of the states. But there is a downside to all that growth. The company that owns Maker's Mark, the brand known for bottles that are hand-dipped in wax, announced it doesn't have enough supply to keep up with demand. So it's going to water it down.
For whiskey to be labeled bourbon, it has to be made from at least 51 percent corn, distilled at no higher than 160 proof, and be aged in a white oak barrel. It doesn't have to be made in Kentucky, but it does have to be made in the U.S.
Michael Veach is the author of "Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage." He says Maker's Mark is one of the few family-operated distilleries remaining in the United States. The distillery started making bourbon in 1954.
In recent years bourbon has been on a roll. "The problem is that these last 10 years the industry has been growing faster than anyone thought it would," Veach says.
That is a problem for aged whiskey like Maker's. The bourbon distilling now won't be out of the casks for another six years. Beam, Inc., which owns Maker's, says it hasn't made enough to keep up with demand. So Rob Samuels, the grandson of Maker's founder, announced a solution.
Maker's will lower the alcohol content by 6.6 percent by adding water to each batch. That could turn some loyal fans off the brand, which is why it made the announcement in an email to customers it calls ambassadors. Eric Mater is an ambassador in Kansas City. He subscribes to an email list and receives gifts each year like a knitted sweater for his bottle.
He made this suggestion to Beam, Inc.: "Maybe they should cut out the free gifts for the ambassadors and keep the bourbon at full strength."
And be warned if you're a bourbon drinker: the supply problem is industry-wide.