Mayor Lightfoot’s 2020 Chicago Budget Falls Short on Advancing Equity

Where the City of Chicago invests resources matters.

This has been a year of firsts in Chicago government in terms of advancing equity. Chicago elected Lori Lightfoot, a Black woman and member of the LGBTQ community as mayor, and she installed the City’s first Chief Equity Officer shortly after taking office. As a candidate, Mayor Lightfoot campaigned on a vision of a racially and economically equitable city, one where the neighborhood you live in or the color of your skin does not determine your life’s outcome or your access to opportunity.

Mayor Lightfoot’s campaign agenda was centered on responding to the stark and long-ignored disparities experienced by Chicago’s Black and Brown residents. Chicago is an incontrovertibly fragmented city where public investments and amenities have historically been concentrated in majority white neighborhoods, while communities of color have been marginalized, devalued and overpoliced. Today, Black and Brown people in Chicago experience vast inequities in economic well-being and access to opportunity, a consequence of policies that have entrenched racial segregation and fueled poverty.

A central antidote to this injustice is investing in equity. 

Economic and racial justice in Chicago cannot be achieved on good will alone—money matters. Despite Mayor Lightfoot’s campaign promises, her recently passed 2020 Budget falls short of what is needed to close the disparities in our city and to stop them from becoming worse.

A living wage for all working people is critical to closing the racial wealth gap

There is plenty of reason to celebrate the raise of the City’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021 or 2023, depending on the size of the employer. Starting July 1, 2020, 400,000 workers in Chicago will receive a raise in their wages, including workers previously excluded from the City’s minimum wage law such as persons with disabilities, and workers at city ‘sister agencies’ like the Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA).

But there’s also room for disappointment: not all workers will see the same increase in their pay. Tipped workers in Chicago, who are mostly women and people of color, will only receive 60% of the full minimum wage with the expectation that the difference will be made up with tips. In other words, still a subminimum wage. Having to depend on tips for a living means tipped workers in the city will still be at disproportionate risk for experiencing poverty, not to mention sexual harassment on the job. By maintaining the sub-minimum tipped wage system in Chicago, Mayor Lightfoot also missed a critical opportunity to address a long-standing racial injustice.

The Shriver Center and our partners in the Raise Chicago Coalition remain determined to secure a phase out of the subminimum wage system so that tipped workers can earn a full minimum wage—still being able to accept tips, but not forced to rely on them.

How we as a city invest in communities signifies our values.  

The shrinking of city resources to community-based service providers and public schools over the years has deprived Black and Brown communities in Chicago of critical amenities that support growth and drive future success. At the same time, the Chicago Police Department’s budget has increased—now for the 8th year in a row.

Communities of color do not need more policing; they need smart investments in mental health services, community-based non-profits, after school programs, jobs programs, and substance abuse programs. Investment in these critical services will keep all Chicagoans safe and will signal the Lightfoot Administration’s commitment to everyone’s potential. 

Where the City of Chicago invests resources matters.  

Chicago continues to be a city that is increasingly unaffordable to many of its residents, particularly Black and Brown families. Yet Mayor Lightfoot’s budget does little ease their burden, with only $5 million in Low-Income Housing Trust Fund dollars, and not enough resources to support the development of more affordable housing or to preserve the affordable housing options that remain.

The Mayor’s budget also makes no commitment to ensure the city’s largest affordable housing provider, the Chicago Housing Authority, is accountable for delivering on its responsibilities. There also continues to be a stark racial divide in the level of community economic development in the city. Mayor Lightfoot promised and took early action to limit the powers aldermen have to block affordable housing in their wards, but a citywide investment in community development planning grounded in racial equity is yet to be seen. The $750 million Invest South/West program could be a start to that effort.

Our city must stop syphoning money from Black and Brown communities in order to fill budget holes. 

Mayor Lightfoot’s recent efforts to reduce fines and drivers’ license suspensions for unpaid parking tickets as a revenue generator for the City is an important step in that effort. Lightfoot also put a moratorium on residential water shut offs and eliminated library fines. Serious TIF (tax increment financing) reform must follow. 

True equity, not political power, should drive Mayor Lightfoot and her administration’s budgeting and policy decisions. 

Chicago cannot be a great city, one defined by its values, until opportunities to succeed and thrive are available to all its citizens, not just a select few.

The Shriver Center Advocacy Team contributed to this post.    

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Kate Walz
Kate Walz
Kate Walz

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Housing is fundamental to achieving economic stability, better health outcomes, and thriving families and communities.

Fiscal policies should ensure that all communities can thrive.

Everyone should be paid decently and have basic workplace protections.

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