By Hilary Gowins
Politicians talk about unemployment nonstop. But "jobs" have become just another talking point, a measure of political job performance, a launching pad to discuss bold new plans for economic development and schemes to use other people`s money to prop up big business.
The truth is that suits in capitol buildings don`t create opportunities — people with vision create livelihoods for themselves and others when they are simply left alone and allowed to flourish.
And while many states, such as Illinois, continue to pump millions of tax dollars into big business, the fact remains that, nationwide, small businesses are responsible for two-thirds of all new jobs created in the last 20 years.
In Chicago, real jobs are staring city officials in the face. Their response? Make these opportunities illegal.
Chicago`s ban on street vending is an example of the worst kind of "jobs" hypocrisy.
Here, vendors are incredibly limited in what they can sell, since handling or preparing food is illegal. In fact, they can only offer whole, uncut fruit.
For the privilege of selling this highly regulated, unaltered fruit, vendors must get a peddler`s license from the city of Chicago, which costs $165 every two years. If you want to legally sell anything out of a cart other than fruit, you`re out of luck.
These rules have forced low-income Chicagoans, primarily immigrants on the city`s south and west sides, into a shadow market, where they work to meet high customer demand and make a living in constant fear of police harassment and hefty fines.
Despite this unfriendly environment, the city is home to hundreds — if not more than a thousand — street vendors, according to a spokesperson for the Asociación Vendedores Ambulantes, a local street-vending organization. These entrepreneurs sell everything from elotes to tamales to fresh fruit.
Politicians constantly bemoan Chicago`s jobs climate and claim to want to put people back to work — but the city`s own rules kill street vendors` chances to make a living. Officials decry the presence of food deserts and many low-income residents` lack of access to nutrition — but the city has made it illegal for street vendors to provide affordable meals. Chicago is rife with gang violence, and has seen 1,382 shooting victims already in 2014 — but some in the police department and a handful of politicians instead find time to demonize and harass immigrants who are trying to make a living and support their families on their own terms.
These vendors, many of whom don`t speak English, are left without a voice in this fight. They can`t buy influence and they aren`t politically connected.
Unfortunately, Chicago isn`t the only city in the U.S. that places arbitrary barriers on street vending. Many other major cities also limit vendors` ability to do business. In addition to strict measurement and equipment requirements for food carts, Dallas also allows mobile vendors to serve and sell no more than two food items at a time.
Louisville forbids food vendors from selling within 300 feet of a restaurant, cafe or eating establishment that is open for business.
These limitations matter. When cities limit what vendors can sell, they restrict food options and keep out would-be entrepreneurs from making a living. And when government restricts where vendors can operate based on the presence of brick-and-mortar restaurants, restaurateurs gain an unfair advantage that provides no benefit to the public and only serves to harm vendors` ability to provide for their families. No government or politician can truly claim to be "pro-jobs" as long as laws that kill hopes and livelihoods exist within their jurisdiction.