Solving for Chicago

Francisco Velazquez/Borderless Magazine

Solving for Chicago is a collaborative of 20 print, digital and broadcast newsrooms working cooperatively to cover pressing issues facing the public.

Our current focus is on the opportunities COVID has opened to solving long standing equity issues. We call it the Path Forward and hope you’ll follow our work by subscribing to the newsletter.

The new work builds on a year of reporting by the collaborative on the workers deemed “essential” during COVID.

This project is funded by the Google News Initiative and the Solutions Journalism Network, and is managed by the Local Media Foundation.


The Solving for Chicago journalism collaborative’s 20 newsroom partners are building on their coverage of essential workers to report on how communities are using this unique moment in the pandemic to address the question “What does a more equitable Chicago look like after COVID?”

The Path Forward project will bring needed attention to a critical moment for communities in Chicago. The city of Chicago has already dedicated $10 million to improving public health through community-based efforts, with another $30 million in public funding expected to address inequities in community development, transportation, finance and other issues. It’s a unique moment for journalism to surface communities’ most critical concerns and elevate community-based solutions already being tried that can inform broad policy initiatives across the city and region.

The collaborative’s work on essential workers explored the intersection of employment and health and the Path Forward will expand that approach to examine housing and education, public health and employment and other themes informed by engagement efforts with communities.


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and people were ordered to stay home, nearly a third of the workforce in Chicago found themselves labeled “essential” and continued to come in to work. Considered vital to keep the economy going amidst the crisis, healthcare workers were an obvious category, but others like food service, transportation and construction trades were also identified by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker as essential. Many of these workers have to be around other people to do their jobs, which considerably increases the risk of contracting the virus and bringing it home to their families and communities.

The situation these workers face raises new questions about our workforce and what is essential for a functioning economy compared to what is essential for a functioning community. It reveals the stark divisions by race that still exist within our labor force. Worsening unemployment shows that an essential job is not necessarily a secure job. Participating newsrooms are investigating these and other questions about how the pandemic is reshaping work and employment.