Gary's fortunes have risen and fallen with the US Steel. In the 1960s, Gary entered a downward spiral of decline brought on by layoffs at the steel plants. As unemployment increased, so did crime, taxes, property abandonment.
Gary had one of the nation's first black mayors, Richard G. Hatcher.
Contrary to popular belief, the losses of jobs in steel are more due to improved technology than to imports. Steel production peaked at US Steel's Gary works in the early 1990s, it just took fewer people to produce that steel.
Gary's downtown is virtually empty. Vacant stores have murals painted on their windows depicting what they once sold. "painted on the shuttered Palace Theater is a scene from some elegant memory: a ticket seller in a bow tie and a crowd of customers, some in slinky gowns, milling in a lobby." (NYTimes, Nov 30th, 2003)
Before his legal troubles, Michael Jackson promised to build a performing arts center for Gary; it is now doubtful if that will ever come to pass.
Gary has been in the news in connection with politicking over the construction of a new airport for Chicago. Because the Gary airport is closer to downtown Chicago than the other proposed site for a third Chicago airport at Peotone, Illinois, some have argued that building a new airport at Peotone is not necessary, and that money would be better spent on improving the Gary airport. This plan is backed by the Mayors of Gary and Chicago, while The Illinois state government is in favor of construction at Peotone. Not surprisingly, tax revenues from a new airport at Peotone would go to the State of Illinois, while those from an expanded Gary airport would go to a regional airport authority, and thus to the cities of Chicago and Gary.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 148.3 km² (57.2 mi²). 130.1 km² (50.2 mi²) of it is land and 18.2 km² (7.0 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 12.25% water.
As of the census of 2000, there are 102,746 people, 38,244 households, and 25,623 families residing in the city. The population density is 789.8/km² (2,045.5/mi²). There are 43,630 housing units at an average density of 335.4/km² (868.6/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 11.92% White, 84.03% African American, 0.21% Native American, 0.14% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 1.97% from other races, and 1.71% from two or more races. 4.93% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There are 38,244 households out of which 31.2% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 30.2% are married couples living together, 30.9% have a female householder with no husband present, and 33.0% are non-families. 28.9% of all households are made up of individuals and 9.4% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.66 and the average family size is 3.28.
In the city the population is spread out with 29.9% under the age of 18, 10.1% from 18 to 24, 25.1% from 25 to 44, 22.2% from 45 to 64, and 12.8% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 34 years. For every 100 females there are 84.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 78.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city is $27,195, and the median income for a family is $32,205. Males have a median income of $34,992 versus $24,432 for females. The per capita income for the city is $14,383. 25.8% of the population and 22.2% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 37.9% are under the age of 18 and 14.1% are 65 or older.