Consider this a call to action: Chicagoans are seeing racial disparities in wealth and health widening, compounded by the perceived unequal distribution of resources related to the pandemic.
Among Asian, Black and Hispanic residents who responded to a recent survey, 62% said their household finances have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. In comparison, 45% of white residents reported increased financial distress.
Overall, our recent MacArthur/The Harris Poll survey clearly shows that Chicagoans are experiencing increasing inequality in their communities – leading to nearly two-thirds of city dwellers considering moving from the Chicago metro area in the past year.
MacArthur joined The Harris Poll to survey residents’ perceptions of Chicago’s pandemic-related response and resource allocation. The survey took place in Q4 2021 ahead of the Omicron rise and captures a city poised to recover.
Our findings suggest that city and business leaders can respond to public perceptions with a redesigned recovery plan that will mitigate these historical injustices.
Unequal access to pandemic-related assistance likely contributed to widening health and wealth disparities between white Chicagoans and residents of color. Overall, 38% of people of color saw their neighborhoods have less access to resources that would help them get through the pandemic, increasing the need for resources such as emergency food, mortgage and utility services, and credit forgiveness or payment pauses.
Based on a similar survey we conducted in June 2021, 17% of white residents needed emergency food supplies, compared to 27% of blacks. In the fall, our results showed that 18% of white residents sought emergency food supplies, compared to 31% of black residents.
Chicagoans also felt this unequal access at the neighborhood level. The proportion of residents of color who think their neighborhood has successfully weathered the COVID-19 pandemic has fallen six points between the time of our two surveys — from 78% to 72%. Conversely, white residents’ perceptions of their neighborhood’s relief effort improved from 84% to 88% over the same period.
Overwhelmingly, people identified government support as relevant to their well-being during the pandemic: 80% of residents agree that factors affecting quality of life and life expectancy – such as public safety, medical care and quality housing – are improved with government support be able.
This is a clear call to action for city officials and businesses to respond today to ensure our city’s future is vibrant and diverse.
Residents identified resources that were lacking in their communities, from entertainment and restaurants to schools and public transportation. Lifestyle-focused establishments such as retail and grocery stores are often popular first steps for businesses and community developers. But what we encourage, and what our surveys support, is a focus on neighborhood fundamentals in communities that have lacked such resources for years. Investing in quality job opportunities, affordable housing, quality public schools, and well-maintained infrastructure have the potential to significantly reduce our city’s longstanding inequality.
City leaders should seize this moment to invest in neighborhoods, ensure a strong recovery from the pandemic, and fuel thriving communities. These investments should address historical and current differences to fully improve the overall quality of life for everyone in our city.
Only 9% of people in our survey who said they thought about leaving town actually did. But city leaders should heed the warning. Make Chicago a place people want to stay – and can afford.
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Kristen Mack is Managing Director of Communications and John Palfrey is President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Will Johnson is CEO of The Harris Poll. Mack is a board member of Chicago Sun-Times Media Inc. MacArthur is a supporter of Chicago Public Media, the non-profit owner of The Sun-Times.