Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared racism a public health emergency Thursday, pointing to systematic racism as a leading factor in life expectancy discrepancies across the city.
Joined by the Chicago Department of Public Health, Lightfoot said there is a 9.2-year life expectancy gap between Black and non-Black Chicagoans.
“At almost every single point in our city’s history, racism has taken a devastating toll on the health and well-being of our residents of color – especially those who are Black,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “Without formally acknowledging this detrimental impact, we will never be able to move forward as a city and fully provide our communities with the resources they need to live happy and healthy lives.”
The Chicago mayor said she was “doubling down” on both ongoing and new collaborations between city officials and community leaders to address racism in the Windy City.
Lightfoot said the city would be implementing a “will to act” initiative that will focus on addressing the impacts of historical policies like Jim Crow restrictions, redlining, and “other forms of financial and housing segregation and discrimination.”
The city’s public health department said it will allocate nearly $10 million in coronavirus relief funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish six Healthy Chicago Equity Zones that will encompass the entire city.
“The launch of the Healthy Chicago Equity Zones is an extension of the racial and health equity work implemented by community leaders, public health entities, city government, and health institutions,” said Ayesha Jaco, executive director of West Side United, a community-based initiative for Chicago’s western neighborhoods.
Earlier this week, the city health department released data that showed expanding life expectancy discrepancies between Black residents, who on average live 71.4 years, and non-Black Chicagoans, who tend to live 80.6 years.
Five factors contribute to the near decade–long differences in life expectancy, including chronic diseases, homicide, infant mortality, opioid overdose, and health concerns such as HIV, flu, and other infections – like the coronavirus.
“COVID-19 brought to the surface these inequities in our city and our society, but they’ve always been there, and they’ve always been a focus of the work we do at CDPH,” health commissioner Allison Arwady said Thursday.
Lightfoot called the data a “stark reminder of the legacy of unacceptable inequities” that continue to affect Black Chicagoans.