2 Chicagoans On Struggling To Make Ends Meet During The Pandemic

Sep 17, 2020
Originally published on September 17, 2020 4:59 pm
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The coronavirus pandemic has meant serious financial problems for a majority of Black and Latino households, including having to drain their savings accounts. That's according to a new poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. WBEZ's Maria Ines Zamudio reports on the impact the pandemic has had on two Chicago residents.

MARIA INES ZAMUDIO, BYLINE: Andre Cunningham recently discovered he loves cooking.

ANDRE CUNNINGHAM: I have been cooking everything. Lately, it's been a lot of Asian food.

ZAMUDIO: When the Chicago South Side native was furloughed from work during the pandemic, he suddenly had more time to spend in the kitchen.

CUNNINGHAM: Learn how to make things from scratch. You know, you making jams and jellies and breads and all of that stuff.

ZAMUDIO: Cunningham is a liquor distributor. He was doing well financially and planned to open a small business this year. After he lost his job, he started receiving unemployment, but it wasn't enough.

CUNNINGHAM: I started taking a bigger hit when I was dipping into my savings to try to pay bills and just survive.

ZAMUDIO: The new poll outlines how the pandemic has impacted the financial stability of households in Chicago and three other cities. Like Cunningham's, the majority of Black and Latino households in Chicago report having serious financial problems. Four in 10 of the Black and Latino households reported using up all or most of their savings. Dr. Helene Gayle is the president of the Chicago Community Trust. Gayle said this pandemic has highlighted the differences between income and wealth.

HELENE GAYLE: One could be doing relatively well in terms of income, but income is a point in time. And once that income goes away, which - we've seen a lot of people lose their source of income. If you don't have wealth, if you don't have assets, if you don't have money in the bank, things that can tide you over - if you don't have that, when you miss a paycheck or two, many families are plunged into situations of severe economic hardship.

ZAMUDIO: In Chicago, two-thirds of Black and Latino families don't have enough to meet basic needs if they don't have income for three months, she said. She fears a pandemic will widen the wealth gap between white families and families of color. Andre Cunningham said he sees the impact the wealth gap has on his own family.

CUNNINGHAM: A lot of my extended family - everybody kind of were furloughed and let go, definitely didn't have any resources. Just that wealth gap is so huge especially in cities like Chicago.

ZAMUDIO: The NPR poll also found that 63% of Latino households lost a job or income during the outbreak. 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.

HARLEY SKORPENSKE: And I think for the first time, I'm understanding just how mentally devastating that can be because just this short period of having to do it has been really difficult.

ZAMUDIO: She got COVID-19 and worried about not only surviving the virus but also surviving financially. She said she's lucky because as a college graduate, she was able to find a new job. But many people still need help.

SKORPENSKE: I think we need to change the conversation about what government assistance looks like because we need it. You know, people need it, and they need it to survive.

ZAMUDIO: To survive a pandemic that has no end in sight. For NPR News, I'm Maria Ines Zamudio.

(SOUNDBITE OF FKJ SONG, "BETTER GIVE U UP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.