The only positive thing about the coronavirus, said Andre Cunningham, is that he discovered his love of cooking.
“I really enjoyed spending time with the family and just learned how to make things from scratch. You know, make jams, jellies and breads and all of that stuff,” the South Side native said.
Cunningham is a liquor distributor. He was furloughed after the city shut down in March in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Cunningham had been doing well financially and planned to open a small business this year. After he lost his job, he started receiving unemployment. But it just wasn’t enough.
“It started to take a bigger hit when I was dipping into my savings to try and pay bills and just survive,” he said.
Many folks have taken a financial hit as the pandemic has had a profound impact on the American economy. But Black and Latino households in Chicago have been hit harder by the pandemic than their white counterparts, shows a new poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard University.
The poll results were released this month in the report: “The Impact of Coronavirus on Major U.S. Cities.” Residents in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York City were asked how the pandemic had affected their finances, employment, health care, food access, child care, housing and transportation.
Like Cunningham’s, the majority of Black households in Chicago, 60%, and Latino households, 72%, reported having serious financial problems — compared with 36% for white households in the city, the report showed. Additionally, more than four in every 10 Black and Latino households in Chicago reported using up all or most of their savings — compared with 25% of white households, according to the report.
Dr. Helene Gayle, president of the Chicago Community Trust, said the pandemic has highlighted the difference between income and wealth.
“One could be doing relatively well in terms of income, but income is a point in time and … we’ve seen a lot people lose their source of income,” Gayle said. “If you don’t have wealth, if you don’t have assets, if you don’t have money in the bank — things that could tie you over — when you don’t have that [and] you miss a paycheck or two, many families are plunged into situations of severe economic hardship.”
In Chicago, according to Gayle, two thirds of Black and Latino families don’t have enough to meet basic needs if they don’t have income for three months. Gayle said the pandemic will worsen the wealth gap between white families and families of color.
Cunningham said he sees the impact of the wealth gap in his own family.
“A lot of my extended family … were furloughed or let go; definitely didn’t have any resources,” he said. “Just that wealth gap is huge … especially in a city like Chicago.”
The poll also found that 63% of Latino households in Chicago reported that at least one member of the household lost a job, business or some of their income during the outbreak. Among those households, 87% reported having serious financial problems.
In March, Harley Skorpenske lost her job and her medical insurance. The 26-year-old Latina has lupus. She’s been forced to pay thousands each month for medication to treat her chronic illness. She was receiving unemployment, but it wasn’t enough to cover her medication. She depleted her savings and lived paycheck to paycheck.
“I think for the first time, I’m understanding just how mentally devastating it has got to be because just this short period of having to do it has been very difficult,” Skorpenske said.
She got COVID-19 and worried not only about surviving the virus but also surviving financially. Skorpenske considers herself lucky because, as a college graduate, she was able to find a new job. But many people still need help, she said.
“I think we need to change the conversation about what government assistance looks like because we need it to survive,” Skorpenske said.
María Inés Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.