In the Chicago area, people of color report more troubles getting to work than white residents

Metra train Chicago backdrop
A Metra suburban commuter train moves along elevated tracks in Chicago on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Shafkat Anowar / Associated Press
Metra train Chicago backdrop
A Metra suburban commuter train moves along elevated tracks in Chicago on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Shafkat Anowar / Associated Press

In the Chicago area, people of color report more troubles getting to work than white residents

For Tanji McDaniels, her part-time, night-shift gig at Planet Fitness in Lockport, Ill., feels like a Sisyphean struggle.

After an accident left her carless a year ago, she has had to take Uber rides to the job from her mother’s house in nearby Plainfield. She said public transportation options are few and far between in her area, as are safe paths that she can walk along to get to work.

“I don’t mind walking, but it’s super dangerous because everybody’s going like 45, 50 miles an hour, and I’m walking on roads that have no sidewalks,” McDaniels said.

She added that after paying for the Uber rides, she is “basically just paying to get to work. With the check I get, it’s just like an endless cycle — only enough to get me to work and then that’s it — nothing to actually pay bills and stuff.”

McDaniels is currently enrolled in a welding training program with the Jane Addams Resource Center. The program provides transportation funds for her to travel to the city to get trained. But McDaniels said after she completes the course, she is unsure whether she will be able to find work nearby.

“It’s depressing, it’s irritating, it’s frustrating,” she said. “The situation is out of your control sometimes.”

McDaniels is among thousands of Chicago-area residents for whom getting to work is a challenge, as is finding good jobs where they live.

A recent public opinion survey, released this month by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), shows that people of color — like McDaniels, who is Black — are twice as likely as white residents to say it’s hard for them to get to their jobs. About 9% of white respondents said traveling to work was a challenge, compared to 18% among residents of color, according to the report.

The survey also showed that residents living in historically disinvested communities are less satisfied with their access to work, open space and clean air and water.

“The survey really reaffirmed the fact that the experience of people who live in our region is just different, depending on who you are and where you live,” said CMAP Executive DIrector Erin Aleman.

Aleman said that while the majority of residents in the region were satisfied with key quality-of-life markers — including transportation, housing and environmental factors — their responses differed along racial and class lines.

The study showed that the vast majority of respondents — 90% — support equitable investments for roads, bridges and transit infrastructure going to communities with the greatest needs.

With the Biden administration’s emphasis on investments in the nation’s infrastructure, Aleman says the Chicago region should focus on maintenance and modernization of the existing system.

“We would like to bring our transit systems up to this good state of good repair, making sure that they’re safe, that they’re modern [and] attractive to people, but also that we’re thinking about how we can do a better job of connecting communities to places of work,” she said.

The wide-ranging survey also explored the impact of the pandemic on residents.

According to the report, about 12% of respondents said they decreased their work hours or left the workforce to care for their children or other family members. This proportion was higher among Latino residents (17%) and Black residents (14%) than white residents (9%). The number was also highest among those in households making $35,000 a year or less compared to other income ranges.

The CMAP survey was completed by 2,340 residents who were at least 18 years of age in the seven-county region.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @estheryjkang.