Chicago’s Polish Population Plummets

Anyone who shops in Chicago’s heavily Polish neighborhoods, as I do, knows the joy of Andy’s Deli and the Red Apple buffet, but it is also clear that for more than a decade the demographics of these Polish neighborhoods have been changing dramatically. Poles who are in America to stay are moving to the suburbs for newer more affordable housing; many others, who came to Chicago primarily for work, are returning to Poland for easier and cheaper opportunities at home or in other countries of the European Union.

An interesting report in the July 8-10 issue of DNAinfo, a real estate newspaper and website, reports that Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood, home of the city’s largest number of Poles, has lost about 41% of its Polish population since 2000. The Belmont Cragin neighborhood has lost 55%. The Edison Park neighborhood has seen a 20% decrease, and Jefferson Park and Norwood Park neighborhoods are down 17% and 14% respectively. A ride through the Avondale neighborhood, the traditional heart of Polish Chicago, evidences this shift with its closed shops and an atmosphere that’s somewhat shabby and a little ominous.

The history of Polish people in Chicago is a constant push to move to greener pastures, says Dan Pogorzelski, author of Images of America: Avondale and Chicago’s Polish Village. I certainly agree and have seen this happening in my own family. While Polish social, cultural, and religious institutions remain strong, assimilation is also at work. The Polish Museum of America (of which I am a board member) and St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish (of which I am a parishioner) struggle not just financially but with how to make the preservation of Polish cultural history in Chicago a priority for generations to come.
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