Top 10 Youth Social Problems in Chicago in 2020
Chicago youth have dealt with ongoing social challenges that have continued to shape their daily interactions and experiences over the past 20 months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn what social issues Chicago adults were most concerned about for youth in the city, we teamed up with the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) on the 2020 Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr. We asked adults, including parents and non-parents, from all 77 community areas in Chicago which social issues they considered to be “big problems” for all children and adolescents in Chicago — not just for their own kids.
Some of the top social concerns identified by adults were connected to violence (e.g., gun violence, violence in schools), others were connected to inequity (e.g., racial disparities in health, racism) and others included social determinants of health (e.g., poverty, lack of job opportunities). In this report, we share the “Top 10” social issues facing youth in Chicago identified by Chicago adults.
- Gun violence, racial disparities in health, and racism and discrimination were Chicago adults’ top social concerns for youth in the city.
- Gun violence was the number one social concern for the third straight year.
- Not enough job opportunities for teens was new to the top 10 list this year at number eight, right behind not enough job opportunities for parents.
1. Gun violence – 85%
Gun violence was the top social concern identified for Chicago youth this year by Chicago adults regardless of respondent race/ethnicity, gender, age, health status, household income or parental status (parent/non-parent). In the August 2021 Voices of Chicago Health in Chicago (VOCHIC) report on Firearm Safety, Gun Violence and Chicago Families, we found that 23% of parents said their family had been personally affected by gun violence. Chicago experienced an increase in gun violence in 2020, with 4,133 total victims of gun violence, compared with 2,724 in 2019. In 2021 this trend has continued, with the number of shootings outpacing those in 2020. In our sample, adults who lived in neighborhoods with more frequent occurrences of violence were more likely to say gun violence was a big problem for youth than adults who lived in neighborhoods with less frequent violence.
Additionally, adults who reported they did not trust local law enforcement were more likely to consider gun violence a big problem (92%) than adults who reported trusting their local law enforcement a great deal (81%).
In a national poll of parents, gun violence was not a top 10 concern for youth health, suggesting that Chicago adults are more concerned about this issue than parents at a national level.
2. Racial disparities in health – 74%
The second most frequent social concern that was noted was health disparities, or worse health for children of color than for White children. We found that women were more likely (77%) to consider health disparities a big problem than men (70%).
In addition, Black adults were more likely to consider this a big problem (80%) compared with White adults (71%) and Asian/ Other-race adults (67%); 74% of Latinx adults considered this a big problem and this proportion was not significantly different from other groups. Parents and non-parents did not show a significant difference in their reported concerns about health disparities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected children of color, with a higher prevalence of cases among Latinx, Black and Native American children. In Illinois, Latinx children were overrepresented among the total number of COVID-19 cases in the earlier months of the pandemic; however, the proportion of Latinx children represented in child cases declined as the proportion of cases among White children increased later in the pandemic.
3. Racism and discrimination – 73%
Racism was the third most commonly identified social concern for youth. Women were more likely (77%) to consider this a big problem than men (67%). When we explored this by respondent race and ethnicity, 77% of Black adults considered this a big problem, followed by 74% of Latinx adults, 70% of Asian/Other-race adults, and 68% of White adults.
When youth experience racism and discrimination, it is associated with worse mental and physical health.
4. Poverty – 69%
Poverty was number four on the list. We found that Black (76%), Latinx (68%), White (67%) and Asian/Other-race (63%) adults all considered it a major concern for Chicago youth. Adults in worse health themselves were more likely (76%) to consider this a big problem than adults in better health (68%). It is important to note that concern about this did not differ significantly by adult age, household income or parental status. However, adults who always or usually worried about being able to afford their rent or mortgage payment were more likely to say poverty was a big problem for youth (74%) than adults who never worried about these costs (67%).
The new child tax credit — monthly payments for families with children — that is intended to reduce child poverty could help
with this concern. Initial research from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey suggests that this is working. Child tax credit payments issued in July 2021 were linked with a drop in the number of households with children that reported food insufficiency and trouble paying household expenses.
5. Bullying and cyberbullying – 67%
Bullying and cyberbullying was the fifth top social concern for youth in the city. Women were more concerned (74%) compared to men (59%). Adults with high household income were less worried about this (59%) than adults with lower household income (71–73%). We found that Black (73%) and Latinx (73%) adults were more concerned than White adults (60%) about this issue.
A 2020 study in the Journal of Social Psychology suggested that there is a greater prevalence of cyberbullying among adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other research has suggested that bullying and cyberbullying among youth may have declined during the pandemic; however, the long-term impact of the pandemic on youth behavioral outcomes such as bullying and cyberbullying is still a question researchers and clinicians are examining.
6. Lack of parental support and involvement – 64%
The sixth most commonly identified related social concern for youth was lack of parental support and involvement. Older adults (46+ years) were more concerned about this issue (68%) than young (18–29 years) adults (59%). Adults with lower household income were more likely to consider this a problem (67–68%) than adults with high household income (58%). We also found that parents were more concerned (71%) compared with non-parents (62%) about this issue.
7. Not enough job opportunities for parents – 62%
Not enough job opportunities for parents was the seventh most common social concern for Chicago youth. Black adults (75%) were more likely to consider this a big problem than all other groups (55–60%).
Throughout the pandemic, unemployment numbers rose. According to the Congressional Research Service, the rate of unemployment increased from 3.5% in February 2020 to 4.4% in March 2020, and then peaked at a high of 14.8% in April 2020. However, since then the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.4% in July 2021.
8. Not enough job opportunities for teens – 62%
Similar to the seventh top concern, the eighth top social concern for Chicago youth was not enough job opportunities for teens. Black adults (77%) were more likely to consider this a big problem than all other groups (50–62%). We found that adults with lower income (63–67%) were more likely to consider this a big problem than adults with high income (54%). Older adults (45+ years) were more likely (67%) to consider this a big problem compared with middle-aged adults (30–44 years) (57%).
9. Social media – 57%
Social media use was listed as the ninth top problem. We found that Black adults were more concerned (69%) compared to all others (49–56%). Younger parents (18–29 years) were the least concerned about this issue (45%), followed by middle-aged adults (30–44 years) (57%) and then older adults (45+ years) (64%).
Concern about social media may arise from increased use of social media during the pandemic and increased rates of misinformation on social media.
10. Violence in schools – 57%
The tenth most common social concern for Chicago youth was violence in schools. Black adults were most concerned about this issue (66%) followed by Latinx (58%), Asian/Other (54%) and White adults (48%). We found that adults with lower income were more likely (60%) to be concerned about this than adults with high income (50%).
The 2020 Illinois Youth Survey reported that 18% of 8th graders, 12% of 10th graders and 7% of 12th graders have been in a physical fight 1–2 times this past year. It also noted that 7% of 8th graders, 4% of 10th graders and 3% of 12th graders carried a weapon such as a handgun or knife with them in the past year.
How the Survey Was Conducted
This report presents findings from the 2020 Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr., a component of the Healthy Chicago Survey administered by CDPH in collaboration with Lurie Children’s. The survey was self-administered by web and paper from June to December 2020. The sample consisted of 4,517 adults in Chicago, 862 of whom were the parent, step-parent or guardian (referred to as “parents” in this report) of at least one child under 18 years old living in the household. The survey response rate was 38%. All analyses were conducted with statistical weighting so that they are representative of the adult population of the City of Chicago during the time period of data collection. For more results from the Healthy Chicago Survey, visit chicagohealthatlas.org.
Heffernan ME, Smith TL, Bendelow A, Menker C, Prachand NG, Weaver KN, Singh M, Davis MM. Top 10 Youth Social Problems in 2020, Voices of Child Health in Chicago Report. Vol 3, Number 9. November 2021. Available at luriechildrens.org/voices.
Who We Are
Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Marie Heffernan, PhD
Tracie Smith, MPH
Anne Bendelow, MPH
Carly Menker, BS