Health Care and Jobs During the Pandemic: A Closer Look at Chicago’s Neighborhoods

JANE DOKKO: Good morning. I'm Jane Dokko from the Chicago Fed. And I am delighted to welcome you to our Project Hometown discussion "Health Care and Jobs During the Pandemic." We are fortunate to be joined by an expert panel to discuss the challenges of COVID-19, record high unemployment, economic hardship, and racial inequities, and how these challenges are playing out in Chicago's neighborhoods.

Our panelists' bios are on And taken together, their collective expertise spans topics like poverty, health care, workforce development, economic opportunity, and racial opportunity gaps. They are leaders in our communities and have committed in many ways to bringing economic prosperity to all of Chicago's neighborhoods.

To start our discussion, our first two speakers will highlight high-level findings from research about how Chicago's different neighborhoods are experiencing the pandemic and the recession. Our first speaker is Leslie McGrananhan from the Chicago Fed.

LESLIE MCGRANAHAN: Thanks, Jane. I am going to start off and take a few minutes at the beginning of our panel to set out 5 relevant facts about health care and jobs during the pandemic across Chicago's neighborhoods. The goal of this is to get all of us onto the same page. So fact number one is that to date, COVID infections and deaths have varied massively across neighborhoods within the city and have been higher in places with high pre-pandemic needs.

These graphs show the relationship between COVID-19 infections per 100,000 and the poverty rate on the left and COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 and the poverty rate on the right across zip codes in the city based on data provided by the city. Places with higher poverty prior to the pandemic have tended to have higher infection rates and higher death rates, as we see in these graphs. They also highlight the vast variation in infections and deaths across the city by zip code.

Strikingly, the range in infection rates within the city of Chicago by zip code from about 1,000 to 5,000 is greater than the range in infection rates across states in the country, which range from about 300 to about 3,500. The same is true of death rates. The range across zip codes in the city is larger than the range across states.

Fact number two is that COVID infections and deaths have been higher among Black and Latinx residents of Chicago. The bars on the left show that the infection rates among the Latinx population has been about triple that in the white population. And the bars on the right show that COVID-19 death rates among Blacks within the city have been about 2 and 1/2 times those among whites. These patterns have occurred in many locations in the US, including both New York and DC and nationally as well.

Fact number three is that infection and death rates have been higher in neighborhoods with more residents in high-social-contact essential jobs. So we ask what percent of employment in a zip code is in jobs that are essential and require a high degree of personal interaction or cannot be done remotely. And compare that to COVID infection rates on the left and death rates on the right, again, using our zip code data. We find that there are higher infection rates and higher death rates in places where a higher share of the workforce is in these essential, high-social-contact jobs, such as health care.

Fact number four is that job losses have varied across space and are predicted to be higher in places with more workers who are in leisure and hospitality. We estimate zip code job losses is based on city-wide job losses by industry and the industry in which zip code residents work. The map shows our estimate of the share of job losses through August.

So while many that lost jobs have returned between the low point of employment in April and August, this map highlights those places where job losses continue to be the highest as of August. We also note that the largest determinant of the share of continuing job losses within a neighborhood is the share of residents who work in the leisure and hospitality sector. This is shown on the right, where we share-- we compare the share of jobs in this particular sector to our prediction of jobs lost in total.

The final fact, which is fact five, is if we compare infection rates in the first 3 months of the pandemic, which is mid-March through mid-June, to the most recent 3 months of the pandemic, so mid-June through about mid-September, we see that the infection rates have fallen, which-- because the red line is below the blue line, and also that the relationship between infection rates and the poverty rate on the left and infection rates and high-social-contract jobs on the right has weakened. So thus far, the second phase of the pandemic has been different from the first.

Taken together, we see that the pandemic's effects on health care and employment have not been evenly experienced across the city. So I'm looking forward to hearing from the rest of the panel about how these facts have played out in various neighborhoods. Thank you.

JANE DOKKO: Thank you so much, Leslie. Carmelo Barbaro, what are you learning from your research?

CARMELO BARBARO: Thanks, Jane. I'm happy to share a little bit about the work that the Poverty Lab has been doing on the pandemic and what we're learning about how the pandemic is affecting different communities within the city. So for a bit of context, the Poverty Lab is an institute at the University of Chicago that partners with nonprofit organizations and local and state government to use data and research to support their goals around improved policy making. Our work on the pandemic has sought to understand how the pandemic is affecting communities within the city differently. And I'll share some information on 3 key questions.

So the first is what neighborhoods in Chicago are facing the greatest economic and medical vulnerabilities as a result of the pandemic? The second is what communities are facing barriers to testing and care? And the third is how will housing instability impact different communities? And how can this be mitigated?

On the question of worker vulnerabilities, as we approached this by categorizing occupations as being either ones whose workers would be more economically vulnerable in the current environment and then also based on the level of contact, as Leslie suggested earlier. So this gives us a framework for thinking about both economic vulnerability and medical vulnerability. And for example, jobs-- occupations where unemployment is likely to be higher in the current environment or less predictable, but where nevertheless, those who are working have a lot of social contact would be experiencing both medical and economic vulnerability.

And what we saw by doing this analysis at the neighborhood level is that workers in labor and customer service tend to be concentrated on the west and southwest sides of the city. The map on the left highlights the 10 community areas with the greatest share of these workers. These workers are more likely to be uninsured, males, have lower median incomes. And residents in these neighborhoods are more likely to be uninsured and more likely to identify as Hispanic. So we see that the medical and vulnerable-- medical and economic vulnerabilities associated with the pandemic do very substantially by neighborhoods within the city.

We also sought to examine access to testing, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic, when community spread was-- I mean, continues to be a major concern, but was something that was not well understood. We had been working with the state of Illinois to support site selection for community-based testing facilities and wanted to understand where, based on the data that was being released daily, there might be the greatest barriers to access to testing. So we linked data on daily test positivity rates, the percent of infections that came back-- the percent of tests that came back positive to community-level characteristics, so the proportion of residents of a community who worked in high-contact occupations, poverty rates, demographic categories, and ran regressions to try to identify the community-level characteristics that were most predictive of a high test positivity rate at that time.

What we found really surprised us. So one was that communities with high shares of residents who are uninsured were under tested. So those communities had the highest test positivity rates. So we found that even though there was testing happening in these communities, that many more tests were coming back positive.

And then the other finding after controlling for all these other factors, like poverty rates, proportion of residents who were in essential industries, et cetera, the other thing that really jumped out at us was that communities with high shares of residents who were undocumented also had some of the highest test positivity rates. And we were a bit surprised by this and reached out to community partners, like Katya at Enlace, who you'll be hearing from later on the panel, to help us understand what the barriers might be that residents of these communities are facing and to develop recommendations for local and state policymakers on how to improve access to testing.

And finally, finally housing instability remains an area of major concern. So while there is a federal moratorium on evictions through the end of the year, that moratorium does not relieve renters of the obligation to pay rent. And we know that in the current economic context, when so many people are out of work, that there is the risk of major housing instability in the long run once the moratorium is lifted.

So we conducted an analysis at the neighborhood level and found that there are 106,000 households in Chicago who have at least one worker that is working in an economically vulnerable industry and who were already severely rent burdened prior to the pandemic. So they were already paying at least half of their income for rent. That is a significant number of households. And we see also that those households are concentrated in specific areas of the city that overlap fairly significantly with the community areas highlighted at the start of my presentation. In particular, neighborhoods on the south, southwest, and west sides have very large shares of households that are both economically vulnerable in the current pandemic and severely rent burdened.

We also examined demographics to understand who is at the highest risk for this type of housing instability. And what we found was that Black workers in vulnerable jobs are much more likely to be rent burdened than white households, nearly two times as likely to be severely rent burdened. And so with that, I would like to hand the ball back to Jane and to Leslie.

JANE DOKKO: OK, great, thanks so much, Carmelo. Now I'd like to turn our discussion to sort of unpacking some of these data points and relating them to the experiences of our panelists in their leadership roles in Chicago's communities. Darlene Hightower, I'd like to begin with you. As a leader who oversees the health and economic well-being for Rush Hospital's community areas, what are you seeing? And how have your communities experienced the pandemic so far? And what challenges and opportunities are you confronting today?

DARLENE HIGHTOWER: Thanks, Jane. So I want to follow up on fact one that Leslie talked about earlier. There was a slide showing who is getting COVID-19 and who is dying from it. So early on in the pandemic, like around the end of March, early April, there was a WBEC article that came out showing that African-Americans make up 30% of the population in Chicago, but 70% of deaths from COVID-19 were African-American. And currently, as Leslie showed, folks in the Latinx population are getting COVID-19 at rates that are triple those of whites.

And so I just want to pause for a second there and recognize the fact that there are people behind these data points. I think it's easy for us to talk about numbers in general. But we are talking about people, Chicago residents that are bearing the brunt of COVID-19.

I also want to talk about the fact that these disparities in health outcomes and the impact on vulnerable communities is really not new, unfortunately. And it shouldn't be surprising. Even before the pandemic, African-Americans in this city had higher rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease-- the things that make them vulnerable to COVID-19. COVID is just another example of how vulnerable communities are made even more vulnerable when trouble strikes.

What we really should be focusing on is the why. Why are these communities of color vulnerable in the first place? We should be talking about things like poverty, disinvestment, and racism, and how we are addressing those chronic diseases.

So some of the work that we've been doing at Rush before the pandemic and in partnership with five other health institutions is trying to figure out how to get at those systemic barriers that impact Black and brown communities. How do we improve the economic vitality of communities of color? And we specifically started to focus on local hiring initiatives, supporting small businesses, and doing social impact investing work.

So since the start of the pandemic, and with that kind of as a background, I've seen how challenging it has been for small business owners, specifically Black and brown business owners. We did a survey of some of our small business owner grantees on the west side as the pandemic hit, just to get a sense of what they were experiencing on the ground and to see if there were ways for us to better support them. And what we learned is that they've been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Many of these businesses are newer, smaller, and under-capitalized. And several of them, most of them, I would say, have had to reduce their operational hours. They've had to eliminate staff. They've furloughed folks. They've reduced or had their income reduced by more than 40% just due to a lack of purchases and inconsistency in them being able to promote their businesses.

And we also know that many of them did not get approved for the federal Paycheck Protection Program for those loans. One key requirement of that is that the business had to have an established long-term relationship with a bank. And many of our small west side businesses just did not have that. And so they were not able to take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program.

So with all of that, of course, these businesses have to ask for financial support. Can we provide more grant dollars? Can they get loans? How can we help them with a post-COVID strategic plan?

What kind of capacity building can we provide with them? And even simpler things, like can they get personal protective equipment? And so we've done our best to meet our small business owners where they are.

And the last thing I'll say about this is just listening to them and hearing from them, I'm promoting what I'm calling a west side stimulus package that's specifically focused on the needs that these west side businesses owners have called out. And then finally, finally, people keep talking about they'll be so glad when COVID-19 is over and we can get back to normal, to normal, right? But I want to be more optimistic and aspirational than that, because normal wasn't great for everybody. So I say let's create a more just and equitable society and strategically provide opportunities for everybody to thrive. I'll turn it back to you, Jane.

JANE DOKKO: Thank you so much, Darlene. Brenda Palms-Barber, I know you have some slide to share. And so while we get that up and running, I'd like to ask you a related question. How have you and your organization, the North Lawndale Employment Network, experienced the pandemic? What challenges and opportunities are you confronting today?

BRENDA PALMS-BARBER: Well, thank you. Excuse me. Thank you very much. My throat is a little dry-- a little dry. So bear with me. I apologize for that.

So I would say that this was-- it only revealed what we already knew in a lot of ways about who we serve and the challenges of dealing with poverty. In North Lawndale, our poverty rate is roughly at 48%. And so but we didn't understand the severity of it. So a couple of things-- as a nonprofit organization that serves workforce development job seekers and running a social enterprise, Sweet Beginnings, we had to learn how to lead and respond and empathize during the pandemic as-- just as an organization.

But the first thing we had to do was actually convince our community and the people that we serve that they were not immune to COVID. There were these rumors all over the community saying that oh, well, Black people don't get this. And I learned that it was also something that was shared in the Latino community. Oh, yeah, we can't get this.

And so from the very beginning, we had an uphill battle just on helping people understand that COVID is real and that it can certainly-- it can certainly be devastating if we don't recognize that we're vulnerable to that. And then you all know that the [INAUDIBLE] then and some statistics started coming out that said that, in fact, we were more disproportionately represented. So that was one.

The other thing that we had to do that was interesting is as a service provider, recognize that our staff were also very impacted by this, that there was a vulnerability of our frontline staff that they also had to understand that they were vulnerable. But then they also didn't have some of the skills and tools that they needed to work from home, because we all had to pivot. And I think now we understand that working from home is actually more of a privilege, because so many other people can't work from home for a lot of different reasons-- multigenerations living in the home or there are-- they just don't have the space.

They also didn't have access to Wi-Fi. We wound up purchasing laptops and cell phones for not just community residents, but for those people who are also working. And I think that that surprised me.

We conducted a study with all of our clients to find out what is the impact? What is the impact of COVID on your household? And I'll tell you, I was surprised to learn that the first thing that people mentioned in our survey was food insecurity. And I realized when I heard Camilla mention this, it's because people are putting all their money into rent. So they don't have enough money to buy the food that they need to support their families.

So, of course, we worked in partnership with lots of organizations in North Lawndale. And I will say that Rush and Sinai and several other hospitals came together to make sure we had masks, that we had gloves, and that there were food drives. I mean, we literally were giving out food, female-- well, you know, condoms, making sure that people had that kind of protection for themselves, things that they couldn't buy because they really just didn't have the money.

The second thing that people were concerned about was the actual loved ones. Many people, again, have old-- elderly family members that live with them, couldn't get to Walgreens. They couldn't get to grocery stores, didn't have the money anymore to get to those resources.

So that was a very big concern as well. And then the last was, of course, the-- what I'm calling the digital-- digital gap, the digital literacy gap, and that we need to make sure that that's also part of the racial wealth divide, is making sure that people actually have access to quality Wi-Fi and quality laptops and phone services. So those were some of the bigger challenges that we experienced.

We also, as an organization, knew that we had to develop more communication tools. So we established COVID community groups, both within our organization and within the community. So, in fact, we're probably a tighter organiza-- community now because we've had to lean on each other for various different services.

And then the last fear that we noted was that people would catch the virus themselves, that they would not be able to take care of their families. And I said the last, but actually last was that people were afraid to work. We had job opportunities that we couldn't fill because people were afraid that they would catch the virus. But then they had to weigh that against taking care of their families. So it was a real mental struggle.

And we haven't touched on it, but the last-- another point that I'll mention is that discovering mental health was unbelievable, both the mental health of our clients and people feeling this low-grade depression, not feeling comfortable talking about it. My staff, it showed up with our staff. And I thought they were fine. And they were like no. And the longer it went on, the more intense it became.

And there's still that unfortunate stereotype that going out and asking for mental health support-- it's still there a little bit. And that's what's frustrating. So we're trying to normalize seeking mental health services as well. So all of those things sort of came to the top for us.

And I'll tell you that it's been hard and it's been sad, because we've had looting that's been taking place. People are frustrated. People are angry. And that's without a pandemic.

But I think that we are resilient. And I think that we will get through this. And I know that the jobs will still be there for people. But I just want to say, it's just-- it really has been really difficult in a way that has touched everyone's hearts and your minds.

And you question justice. What is our justice system? People say we don't have a justice system. We have an injustice system. And that sounds negative, but I think that that's where a lot of people's heads are.

JANE DOKKO: Thank you so much, Brenda. I appreciate sort of all of the thought that you've put into bringing people to the data and the research. Katya Nuques, as a community leader in Little Village and with Latinx residents, what are you seeing? And what challenges and opportunities are you confronting today?

KATYA NUQUES: Thank you, Jane. Everything that people are talking about really resonates with us. And I'm not trying to paint a picture of Little Village so that people can put this into context. So the 60623 zip code, which is the majority of the Little Village community, had one of the highest rates of confirmed COVID cases in the state of Illinois. Unfortunately, the Black community leading with mortality, the Latino community leading with incidence.

The vulnerabilities of Little Village members have been highlighted by the pandemic. So Little Village is extremely dense, with a population of 75,000, about 17,000 per square mile. So families live together in small apartments. That, of course, increased the incidence rate. Approximately 27% of community members are undocumented. Most of them are acting as head of households that Melo mentioned, how that was a factor in elevating that incidence of COVID.

Unfortunately, also recent changes to the public charge rule increased hesitation and fear among immigrants related to our existing public benefits, regardless of eligibility. Also, we're, in terms of poverty, there with our Black sisters and brothers from North Lawndale. Per capita income in Little Village, around $12,000, about a third of the city average. The uninsured rate of those between 18 and 64 years of age in Little Village is 44% compared to 18% city-wide.

Also, a fact that Brenda was mentioning, we did a survey a couple of years ago, 70% of those who are living with a mental health disorder are not receiving services. Child care is also a huge issue. And finally, the computer access and access to internet has also made this situation extremely difficult.

So because of all of that already difficult situation, our community was hit very hard during the pandemic. According to data collected by our staff through thousands of conversations with community members that we put in a database, and also the University of Chicago Poverty Lab Chicago Housing Stability Study Survey, the number of individuals facing unemployment or loss of income in Little Village is around 60%, which means the majority of our families are facing loss of income. Many are low-wage, essential workers. They work in industry that have been heavily impacted, have been laid off, or are working fewer hours.

Not only do many people in Little Village not qualify for unemployment or traditional SNAP [INAUDIBLE], many mixed-status households were denied stimulus payments, even though they include members with Social Security numbers. So unfortunately, these figures are consistent with the fact that a significant percentage of head of households in the community participate in the cash informal economy, are undocumented. The individuals we have had conversations with, they were worried about rent, mortgage Payments, utilities, et cetera. And in terms of connectivity, again, going back to the education and virtual learning-- according to the report by Kids First, Austin and Little Village were the communities with the lowest rates of connectivity. About 7,000 families in Little Village are not connected.

So you asked us also to talk about what these problems are going to mean in the future. So the gaps in the education are going to be even bigger. And the gain than we have made in previous years, gone, right? Significant investments need to be made in children's education in Black and brown communities particularly to get us-- again, try to reduce those gaps.

I also wanted to mention something that Lene was talking about regarding the businesses. Unfortunately, we are always being labeled the Second Magnificent Mile because of our tax revenue. But 60632 only ranked 44th out of 58 zip goes in terms of the amount of PPP loans approved. 60623 was 43rd.

So we know that it wasn't that imperfect, right, that they said let's give the less amount of the federal loans to these small businesses. But what she mentioned has to do with this, right, inequity. We're trying to-- our business to be aware of the programs and funds that are available. They don't have the capacity or the readiness to apply what is out for what is out there. We need a lot of catching up for them to be able to access what's available.

I wanted to tell you a little bit of what we have done in terms of adapting programs and initiatives to this situation in working to keep all of our staff safe and employed, right, that community health promoters continue to receive calls, provide a range of supports, including public benefits enrollment, health care navigation and research referrals, facilitating virtual peer support groups, sharing videos and strategies for maintaining wellness.

Our community gardens are functioning with a rotating schedule so that families can visit the garden one at a time to maintain the garden and to put-- and to take home produce. Our legal aid hotline continues to offer free legal services. Clinical mental health staff are providing virtual counseling.

Our Street Outreach Team continues to support participants, mediate conflicts, and responds to violent incidents. They are still out there in the streets. Our education staff are checking in with participants, supporting families with remote learning, and planning for a fully remote year of activities and support to our families.

The post-secondary coordinators are providing critical support for first-year college students who are facing unique challenges, as you know, the year. Census promotion and organizing efforts are occurring through phone and social media. And we're trying to use our extensive presence in social media to relay critical information, share resources in Spanish, communicating and coordinating with partners who are also making the same adjustments. And finally, we're working very hard to advocate for key policy and system change that address the impact of the pandemic.

We have a cash assistance in Little Village. We have been the recipients of a lot of generosity from the community in Chicago. We have been able to assist about 800 families as of now with $500 cash assistance funds, sometimes $1,000 depending on where that fund comes from. And we're partnering with Second Federal, which is our local credit union, to make the funds accessible to our community.

So I want to say that despite the challenges, our community continues to have a strong sense of unity and resilience. We continue to meet weekly. We are all convened by the alderman office of the 22nd Ward. In that meeting, we have our health providers sharing the data, CVOs giving out [INAUDIBLE] or activities and information, Chicago Public School chief of Network 7 trying to get us updated in terms of the schools and the plans for that.

Also, we're coordinating with the CD. I belong to a racial equity rapid response group. And in terms of looking into the future, we're putting together-- we're actually finalizing the [INAUDIBLE] Little Village Economic [INAUDIBLE] Report that was put together with partners from all of the communities, from different sectors, that chamber, those who work with street food vendors. And that report actually focuses on 2 things-- employment and small businesses. Thank you, back to you, Jane.

JANE DOKKO: Thank you so much, Katya. At this point, I'd like to give the panelists an opportunity to reflect on what the discussion has sort of covered so far. One are the themes that is echoing for me is that there are many longstanding inequities behind why Chicago's Black and brown communities are experiencing these challenges. Katya, Brenda, and Darlene, you have the captive ear of researchers. So please tell-- share with them sort of the why behind the data that they presented. Darlene, I'll begin with you.

DARLENE HIGHTOWER: Sure. So I have a love-hate relationship with data, because I think you've got to have the data to be able to understand what's happening in these neighborhoods. But I also want to focus on what the solutions are, right? So in my opening remarks, I talked about the fact these inequities have existed, when you look at things like heart disease and obesity and all of that.

And I firmly believe that these are caused because of poverty. There is data that specifically shows the wealthier that you are, the better health outcomes you have, the better access to quality care, the better access to quality insurance, all of these things. And so that's why a focus on education and economic development is so important and central to the work that we're doing at Rush.

And it's important to me personally. Having been raised by a single mom and experiencing challenges, I know the difference that strong economics within a household can have. And that's what I focus on, it's economics and education as the great equalizers for the disparities that we see.

JANE DOKKO: Thank you so much. Brenda, what themes are sort of resonating with you among sort of the other panelists? What's behind these longstanding inequities?

BRENDA PALMS-BARBER: I agree. Education is key. However-- education is key. I'm sorry. Poverty is the driving force, number one. And then what I focus on are the systems, the systemic institutional policies that actually keep people from being able to move out of poverty.

So for me especially, we work a lot with returning citizens or justice-involved men and women. And we know that people are going to prison and not necessarily given the same opportunities fairly before that-- before they land in prison. People are arrested at rates. We're seeing this happened before us right now on television with videotapings.

And so I think that it really has to do with who do we vote to be in leadership? Who is helping to make policy? And all of that is really, unfortunately, still rooted very much in a very biased and racist system that we live in.

And I think that if we can begin to rethink and redesign policies that allow people to get an education, a Pell Grant-- I mean, I literally was raised by a woman, an amazing woman, my mom, who raised four daughters. But I was able to go to school on a Pell Grant. That has made all the difference in the trajectory of my life and the life of my daughter.

And so it's those kinds of policies that are so restrictive that don't create pathways. If you've served your time in prison, for example, then I think you've served your time and that you should be eligible for those kinds of support programs. Many men and women who've been incarcerated aren't even eligible for some SNAP programs. I mean, people need to eat. So it's those kinds of policies that I think that we really have to focus on.

I know that in addition to poverty, it's about institutional racism and who's making these decisions and who's in power to make those decisions. And so as we continue to be a more inclusive society, one that's more empowering of different voices, I think that those policies will change in time.

Yeah, and I'll come back, because there was something else I wanted to mention to you all. But I'll come back. I'll hold so that Katya can speak.

JANE DOKKO: OK, thanks. Katya?

KATYA NUQUES: Yes, I thought I was going to get in trouble by myself, but thank you, Brenda, for leading us there. I think behind the inequities, you have systemic racism, right? And we can't-- we can't deny that. And we also should always speak up about it, right?

What it means to me-- it continues lack of participation in decision making, that continues having to have other people, right, especially white people and white males that make all the decisions for us, that shape all the policies for us, and that do not take into consideration the facts and the elements that Leslie and Carmelo have also talked about from the beginning, like the community that had that the highest mortality rate, the highest incidence. Those that are uninsured, undocumented that have been suffering from chronic illnesses from the longest time were the hardest hit. Of course, both in terms of our health, but also in terms of all of the hidden terms of our economic status, right?

The families losing their jobs, the families losing their income, not being able to pay the rent-- this is all result of the vulnerabilities that were already present. So we cannot say, oh, it's just because this day, they did this or that in terms of their policy. We were already suffering from the systemic racism, that anything that happens-- right, we're talking about right now about this horrible global pandemic. It could have been something different, right, a natural disaster, like what happened in New Orleans, that push us down even farther, right?

So I totally agree with Brenda. It's systemic racism that keeps from our participation in all levels, right? I can talk about, of course, government, which is probably the most important in terms of making a difference in our way of living. But it's in academia. It's in philanthropy. In every sector that you look at, we are just disproportionately represented. And we are very, very much lacking representation, regardless of what sector you look at.

JANE DOKKO: Thank you, Katya. Leslie and Carmelo, I want I give you a chance to respond to sort of some of the stories behind the data, if you'd like, at this point.

CARMELO BARBARO: Yeah, I would just say that I think that everything that Brenda and Katya and Darlene said absolutely resonates with me. I think one of the things that has been-- has been so challenging about the current environment is that it has-- it has just exacerbated the inequities that already existed. And none of us should be surprised that in a city where, for example, 45% of Black children are growing up in poverty, that when something like this happens and we need-- and the only way to stay connected to education is to, for example, have Wi-Fi at home, that it's going to be Black children who are going to struggle the most with that new situation.

So we can't-- we can't talk about the pandemic and its impacts without talking about the root causes and the preexisting conditions. And it really does-- I just think the last several months have completely reinforced for me the centrality of structural racism and all of the challenges that the city faces and that our country faces. And if we don't acknowledge that and more consciously address it through policy making, then I think we're never going to get to the better future that Darlene, I think, articulated so well as what we should be working towards.

And I think that has implications for lots of things. I mean, even we've talked a lot about the PPP loans today. A conscious choice was made to prioritize getting that money out quickly, right? Equitable distribution of funds was not the top priority. And there's a tradeoff there. But it was not even something that was discussed at the time.

And I think, personally, I have been heartened to see that, for example, in the city's programs around supporting small businesses that there has been more of a conscious focus from the beginning on equitable distribution of those funds, even if it meant that it took longer for funds to get out the door. I think it has both been a deeply upsetting few months to be looking at all of this data and to, I think, internalize just how longstanding these issues have been. But I think I will say there have also been-- there have been lots of innovations, like the one that I described at the city level, where I can see policymakers starting to more consciously build these considerations into the actions that they're taking. And that does give me some hope as well.

JANE DOKKO: Great, thank you, Carmelo. Leslie, do you want to add anything? OK, sounds good. In our final minutes, I want to give our panelists an opportunity to share their thoughts about Chicago's future and prospects for an equitable and inclusive recovery. I'd like to hopefully end on a positive note.

And so the question that I will ask is what gives you hope? What are young people doing now that gives you hope? What are community members and neighbors doing now that gives you hope? What are there things happening in policy or in philanthropy that gives you hope? So Darlene, I'll start with you.

DARLENE HIGHTOWER: Sure, so-- and I appreciate the question, right, because we can talk about the statistics and the bad things that are happening. But let's focus on some good. Let's close on something positive.

So I think where I'm landing is this notion of never giving up, just never giving up. So all the work that we were doing pre-pandemic, the pandemic is showing how necessary it is for us to double down. And I'm encouraged that despite the financial challenges, the hospitals that are part of West Side United are doubling down on their investments and focus on our West Side communities.

And I'm also encouraged-- I'm just kind of following up on what Brenda and Katya were saying about systemic racism, that you are starting to see more companies kind of calling it out. You're seeing say her name hashtags. You're seeing Black Lives Matter hashtags. And then people are putting together ways to live that out, initiatives that are going to promote equitable opportunities for people.

So I'm not going to be cynical. I'm going to be positive and really believe that there's going to be teeth behind words that people are saying, and if they're going to make true commitments. So I'm going to stay in a space of optimism and keep fighting the good fight, and get in good trouble, as my favorite John Lewis would say. Get in good trouble.

JANE DOKKO: I love that. Thank you. Brenda, what gives you hope about the future and prospects for Chicago and the prospects for an equitable and inclusive recovery?

BRENDA PALMS-BARBER: Yes, well, Darlene, you just took my opening. I was going to say the same thing. I'm going to lean in on good trouble, because it is through good trouble that I think we need to hold our legislators, our officials to doing what they promise. I think it's important for us to make sure that the city budgeting planning process has-- it reflects the values of our people. And it has to be in addressing some of the needs around education and literacy and technology in these neighborhoods.

I think that the good is that we have come together as a stronger community. I know that Katya and I are going to be doing more work together. We have some plans that we've been working with.

So I think that even Black and brown, because we had a-- we really had a mishap this summer, right? There was a really terrible sort of violence that took place between our wards, the 24th Ward and 22ns Ward. And I was happy to be out front, supporting our brown brothers and sisters. And I know that there are incidences that happen.

So there's something that's shifting. So I love that we're beginning to move out of our sort of sectors or wards or race and really leveraging the power that we have as West Siders. I'm loving that that's happening.

I also am inspired by people like my daughter, who-- she's 21. And talk about getting into good trouble-- I'm loving it that she's been part of protesting and that she's writing and there-- her friends are doing spoken word and writing poems. They're so aware of what is happening. And they're committed to doing something about it. They're committed to getting into good trouble. I really respect that.

And I have seen a real infusion of new resources in North Lawndale in particular. Mount Sinai received $7 million for the building of the health care center that they're developing to address diabetes and to address some of the health issues that we face. So I think it's starting to happen, that this infusion and this investment that we haven't experienced on the West Side is starting to happen.

Many of my people [AUDIO OUT] my people [AUDIO OUT] acknowledge that a little something is happening, in fact. So I'm encouraged. But I'm going to be leaning in and holding folks more accountable, because our communities deserve it.

JANE DOKKO: Thank you, Brenda. I will look forward to your leaning in and holding people accountable. Katya, what-- what gives you hope about Chicago's prospects for an equitable and inclusive recovery?

KATYA NUQUES: Yes, I think that, the same as Darlene and Brenda, I have started to notice change, right? And I have to be very cautious with using the word change, right, because, as we said before-- hold on five seconds. So when we use that word, we have to be cautious about how we use it. So let me just give you a couple of examples that I'm very, very positive about and hoping for the best in terms of direction.

We have had not only significant generosity from the philanthropic community during these times, also, I have seen changes in the policies that they use and the things that they do in terms of brand making that make much more sense during these uncertain times, right-- changing guidelines, making them much, much simpler, changing their requirements for report, kind of like changing some time retail reports or verbal reports so that we don't have to spend hours and hours doing that while we have to pay attention to the new services and things that our community needs. So that gives me hope.

I have definitely seen a little bit of change also in the direction and the-- that philanthropy takes in the city of Chicago. I've seen a lot of trying to really listen directly from people that are on the ground providing services. And that's so important, right, when you actually shape your strategic plans based on what happens on the ground. In terms of our local approach to the pandemic, I am also-- have seen that this have brought unity, right, in terms of all of us talking to each other, working together, as I said, coordinating, meeting weekly, meeting as often as need be so that we could provide the best service to the community.

In fact, I, for example, one of the things that surprised me during all of our surveys and our conversation with thousands of community members, food security in Little Village was actually ranked five. Rent and housing was first. There were health needs second. So people wanted to hear about resources, but food was not a priority.

And the reason, I actually do think I know, is because we, all of us had from the beginning put a lot of effort into making sure that our community was fed, right, that that wasn't a need in their communities. And so we have a lot of food pantries in the community that have been extremely active in distributing. So we actually heard from our families that that wasn't necessarily something they were suffering from. So that, like I'm saying, happy about local coordination.

And finally, the coordination at the city level, actually, like I said, part of the racial equity rapid response, we have been doing a lot to provide the resources to our community to improve testing, to you know put PPE in the hands of community members, et cetera. So I have hope. Nothing is going to change from night to day. But we need to be positive and hopeful.

JANE DOKKO: Thank you so much, Katya. Carmelo, I don't want to leave you out, as we're talking about equitable issues and also inclusion. And so I want to give you a chance to share your thoughts on sort of what gives you hope for Chicago and Chicago's prospects for an equitable and inclusive recovery.

CARMELO BARBARO: Well, I think-- I think my comments will only echo the comments of others. I think that seeing the intense partnership among community-based organizations, the kinds of weekly meetings, the kinds of bridge building that folks have described already I think has certainly given me hope. I think seeing local and state policymakers put equity not maybe in every single case, but more centrally, more frequently into their decision making certainly has given me hope that those individual decisions will lead to progress on some of those longstanding issues.

Also, just note, [INAUDIBLE]-- this has come up a few times over the course of our conversation. But there has been also-- there have been a lot of initiatives just to get cash out to people who need it and to fill in some of the intentional gaps that were created in the early federal programs to support families through the pandemic. And that willingness to-- I think that that local and state effort to fill in those gaps and to recognize the communities that were being left out, certainly it was heartening to me, and I think hopefully has helped to blunt the impact of the pandemic.

But also, that willingness from philanthropy and from government to say you know, actually, we're not going to micromanage what people do with these resources. We're going to trust them that they're going to do what they know is going to be best for them and their families I think also has been heartening to me. And so I do think that this has-- is prompting a shift on some dimensions. And I think certainly, the community-based organizations, like North Lawndale Employment Network and Enlace, that were doing incredible work before have just inspiringly stepped up even more. So I think those are the things that give me hope from my vantage point.

JANE DOKKO: Fantastic. So thank you so much. Thank you, Leslie and Carmelo, for your excellent presentations. Thank you, Katya, Brenda, and Darlene for sharing your insights and experiences and helping us think about the moment that we're in right now and where we are all headed together.

Believe it or not, almost an hour has passed in this discussion. It's been incredibly rich. And it's been a real opportunity for us to sort of connect data with experiences and to hear about the in real-life stories of how Chicago and its many residents are experiencing the pandemic.

And so on behalf of the Chicago Fed and on behalf of Project Hometown, thank you, again, for joining us in this panel discussion about health care and jobs during the pandemic. And we look forward to connecting with you about how the recovery goes in the future and what you're seeing as we all work together in the months to come. So thank you so much. And tune in again to project hometown at another date.

LESLIE MCGRANAHAN: OK, bye, everyone.

KATYA NUQUES: Thank you.

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