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The John Hancock building dominates the Chicago skyline with Lake Michigan in the background as seen from the Sears Tower observation deck. - 


STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Residents of Chicago head to the polls today to vote for their next mayor. One of the issues candidates have debated is a decades-old rule that requires anyone who works for the city to live in the city.

Chicago Public Radio's Tony Arnold looks at the economics behind the residency rule.

Tony Arnold: The six candidates running for mayor have found few positions to agree on. And Chicago's requirement that its 35,000 police, fire and other workers live in the city is no different.

Outgoing Mayor Richard Daley has argued that without the requirement, those workers would live in the suburbs. Thereby not pay city taxes -- and do their shopping outside Chicago.

Richard Daley: If you go to Detroit, if you go to Cleveland, you go to Philadelphia, talk to all those mayors. They'll tell ya: they lost all their middle class.

Some of the current mayoral candidates have said they'd consider waiving the residency requirement as part of contract negotiations with city unions.

Dawn Clark Netsch teaches municipal law at Northwestern University. She says even if the requirement is ditched -- it's not going to necessarily mean an exodus of city workers.

Dawn Clark Netsch: In this economy, I mean, how many people are going to pack up -- they can't sell their house anyway probably right now -- and move just because the residency requirement is abandoned and allows them to do that?

Netsch says it's old Chicago lore that city workers live in neighborhoods right on the edge of the city limits.

In Chicago, I'm Tony Arnold for Marketplace.