Disparities in COVID-19 cases in DuPage County?

As news came out in recent days about disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths by race in Chicago (and now the AP shows blacks are disproportionately affected in numerous American locations), I wondered how this plays out in DuPage County. The second most populous county in Illinois (after Cook County) has a reputation for wealth, conservative politics, and numerous jobs.

First, looking at COVID-19 cases across DuPage County communities as reported by the DuPage County Health Department on April 8:

DuPageCountyCOVID19casesCommunitiesApr0820

The numbers differ across communities, with some DuPage County municipalities still having no confirmed cases while others have 40+ (and Naperville, the largest community by population in DuPage County, leads the way with 71 cases). But, it would be useful to have rates as the populations differ quite a bit in DuPage County. The Chicago Tribune has an interactive map that shows cases by zip code and also provides rates of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 (but appears to be missing data compared to the DuPage County map). Across the zip codes in DuPage County listed, the rates of cases range from the 50s to the 140s per 100,000. Working with both the absolute numbers and the rates, a few communities stand out: Addison, Lombard, Carol Stream, and West Chicago.

DuPageCountyCOVID19ratesApr0820

DuPage County has a different population composition than Chicago or Cook County. For DuPage County as a whole, 66.3% are white alone (not Hispanic or Latino), 14.5% are Latino, 12.6% Asian, and 5.3% Black.Of course, these demographics can differ pretty dramatically across different communities (Oak Brook looks different than West Chicago which looks different than Glendale Heights). While the reported data does not have a breakdown across racial/ethnic groups (and without this it is impossible to see who has contracted COVID-19 in these communities), some of the higher rates of cases are in communities that are more diverse (Lombard is an exception): Addison is 40.6% Latino (44.7% white not Latino), Carol Stream is 19.3% Asian and 14.9% Latino (and 57.2% white not Latino), and West Chicago is 52.9% Latino (36.5% white not Latino).

Second, addressing age, there are several stories about COVID-19 cases in DuPage County senior homes. The most notable case was a center in Willowbrook (where as of April 7 eight of the county’s 26 deaths had occurred), it also hit a community in Carol Stream, and eight more deaths in the county were attributed to long term care facilities. As of yesterday afternoon, 17 of the 28 COVID-19 deaths in the county occurred among long term care residents.

People 65 years old or older make up 15.5% of the population in DuPage County. Lombard is right at the county average while the other three communities with higher rates are lower than the county average.

Third, all four of the communities with higher rates of COVID-19 cases are below the county median household income. While Lombard is just below the county poverty rate, the other three communities are higher. For DuPage County, the poverty rate is 6.6% and the median household income is $88,711. (A side note on social class: wealthier communities may have fewer households receiving stimulus checks. For example, “About 30% of Naperville households earn too much to COVID-19 stimulus money, study finds.” I imagine there would be similar results in other DuPage County communities with higher incomes.)

More detailed data would obviously enhance our abilities to examine patterns in COVID-19 cases in suburban settings. And the patterns could look different even in the Chicago region: wealthier DuPage and Lake counties might have different patterns compared to other Chicagoland areas. But, I do hope that data does come eventually; while much attention is now focused on big cities, COVID-19 is widespread throughout numerous metropolitan regions, individual suburban governments have limited resources and abilities to tackle the issue, and the risk of contracting and being harmed by COVID-19 could vary quite a bit across suburban residents and businesses.

How much Americans want nostalgic suburban recreations outside of “memory towns”

To help older Americans with dementia and other ailments, “memory towns” bring them back to their younger days:

On August 13, a brand-new town in Southern California welcomed its first residents. They trickled through the doors of a generic beige warehouse on a light-industrial stretch of Main Street in Chula Vista, a San Diego suburb. Then they emerged in Town Square, a 9,000-square-foot working replica of a 1950s downtown, built and operated by the George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers. Unlike the businesses around it hawking restaurant supplies and tires, Town Square trades in an intangible good: memories…

Glenner has partnered with the home-health-care giant Senior Helpers, which employs some 25,000 caregivers around the United States, to build Town Squares around the country. Version 2.0 is under construction near Baltimore, in a former Rite Aid in White Marsh, Maryland. Senior Helpers will own and run that facility, which is expected to open in early 2019. But franchise sales are underway, and Peter Ross, the company’s CEO, is bullish…

The onward march of private or semipublic “nostalgiavilles” (retiree-only communities, such as the The Villages in Florida, are similarly engineered to evoke vanished small-town life) raises the question: Do people respond to these places simply because they remind them of their youth, or does their form matter, too? After all, millions of Boomers grew up in postwar sprawl, but Town Square isn’t designed to mimic that.

Instead, as Tarde noted, it “really replicates [a] kind of urban experience. You’re going to a movie theater, going to a library, a department store. Engaging in these activities that may not be accessible to these individuals any longer. But they are in Town Square, and it’s safe.” In other words, the principle behind Town Square is the dense concentration of different services, as in a city (although adapted for a vulnerable population).

Sounds like a promising idea.

I wonder how much of a market there is for recreating idyllic American suburbs in various forms. This could include therapy settings (though the examples discussed above seem to focus more on urban downtowns) and senior living communities. But, it could also include history museums, parks, entertainment venues, and retail settings that want to add a unique element.

One way this could happen is through history museum. Imagine a facility like Naper Settlement in Naperville, Illinois. The facility seems to be well-funded and it helps a wealthy suburb of over 140,000 residents connect to the community’s earlier decades (mid-1800s to early 1900s) as a small farming community. The outdoor portion includes a number of older buildings either moved to the property or recreated that give visitors a glimpse of what life used to be like. Yet, the facility does not do as much with the postwar suburban boom era that might be the true marker of what Naperville is today. Could it move 1950s ranch homes and strip malls and other markers of postwar life that would give visitors a sense of a growing suburban Naperville?

If critics are right about suburbs, perhaps there is little nostalgia worth celebrating. After all, suburbs have been characterized as patriarchal, cookie-cutter, conformist, a waste of resources, and racist. At the same time, millions of Americans grew up in such settings and cultural products (books, films, TV shows) regularly invoke idyllic postwar suburbia (while other products in the same mediums try to show off the darker sides of the same places). These postwar suburbs also came about in an unprecedented era of American prosperity.

At some point, I expect Levittown might become part of a museum or theme park. Given the amount of people who experienced such settings plus the attention (both positive and negative) given to suburbs, isn’t this an opportunity waiting to happen? At the least, many suburbs across the United States will need to find ways to provide compelling and interactive narratives about their own growth that encompasses the era of highways, subdivisions, and sprawl.

Speculation: more Americans choose to pursue unretirement to find meaning

Various data points show more Americans continuing to work even when do not need the money at retirement age:

Unretirement is becoming more common, researchers report. A 2010 analysis by Nicole Maestas, an economist at Harvard Medical School, found that more than a quarter of retirees later resumed working. A more recent survey, from RAND Corporation, the nonprofit research firm, published in 2017, found almost 40 percent of workers over 65 had previously, at some point, retired…

Even more people might resume working if they could find attractive options. “We asked people over 50 who weren’t working, or looking for a job, whether they’d return if the right opportunity came along,” Dr. Mullen said. “About half said yes.”

Why go back to work? We hear endless warnings about Americans having failed to save enough, and the need for income does motivate some returning workers. But Dr. Maestas, using longitudinal data from the national Health and Retirement Study, has found that the decision to resume working doesn’t usually stem from unexpected financial problems or health expenses…

Researchers note that older workers have different needs. “Younger workers need the paycheck,” Dr. Mullen said. “Older jobseekers look for more autonomy, control over the pace of work. They’re less concerned about benefits. They can think about broader things, like whether the work is meaningful and stimulating.”

One of the primary ways that adult Americans find meaning is in their jobs. Not only does a job help pay the bills, a job has become a reflection of who you are. Think of that normal question that leads off many an adult conversation: “What do you do?” With a shift away from manufacturing and manual labor jobs, service and white-collar jobs can encourage the idea that our personality and skills are intimately tied up with our profession.
Put this emphasis on an identity rooted in a job or career together with a declining engagement in civic groups and a mistrust in institutions. Americans are choosing to interact less with a variety of social groups and this means they have fewer opportunities to find an identity based in those organizations. We are told to be our own people.
Imagine a different kind of retirement than the one depicted in this article: older Americans finish a long working career and then find time to get involved with extended family life or various causes, secular and religious, where they can provide both expertise and labor. Where would many congregations or civic groups be without the contributions of those who are retired and now can devote some more time to the public good? What if the child care needs that many younger families face be met with grandparents who could consistently help? What if retired Americans could regularly mentor children and teenagers who would benefit from wise counsel and a listening ear? That is not to say there are not plenty of retirees who do these things; however, this approach involves a broader look at life satisfaction that goes beyond a paying job.

Maybe affordable housing will be addressed when more seniors need it

The retirement difficulties facing many American seniors includes finding decent housing:

What can be done to help today’s seniors and generations to come? There are two approaches, Prindiville says: help people save for old age and make retirement more affordable. As for the first approach, some states have been trying to establish programs that help people save for retirement through payroll deductions even if their employers don’t offer any retirement-savings accounts, for example. But the Trump administration in May repealed an Obama-era rule from the Department of Labor that would have made it easier for states to help people to set up these plans. And the federal government is winding down a program, called myRA, that tried to encourage middle- and low-income Americans to save for retirement. “There are no new initiatives or strategies coming out of the federal government at a time when the need is growing,” Prindiville said.

The second approach might mean expanding affordable housing options, creating programs to help seniors cover medical costs, and reforming the Supplemental Security Income program so that poor seniors can receive more benefits.But there does not seem to be much of an appetite for such ideas in Washington right now. In fact, the Trump administration has proposed cutting money from SSI as well as the Social Security Disability Income program.

These initiatives can make the difference between having a home—and some semblance of stability—and not. Roberta Gordon, in Corona, was barely scraping by when I talked to her. A few months later, she was much more stable. Why? She’d gotten off a wait list and been accepted into the housing-voucher program known as Section 8, which reduces the amount of income she has to put towards housing. She’s still working at 76, but she feels a little more secure now that she has more help. She knows, at least, that she’s one of the lucky ones—able, in her older years, to keep food on the table and a roof over her head.

Many Americans are opposed to helping the poor who they feel should be helping themselves. There is probably more support for providing food or temporary shelter intended to help people get through a rough patch. But, housing is something different.  Why should the government provide funds or other help in finding housing when others are working hard to rent a unit somewhere or scrap together funds to purchase a home?

But, Americans in the last century have been more willing to provide help for seniors. They have contributed to society over their lifetime. They deserve a retirement after decades of work. Society should care for the aged. This does not necessarily mean senior centers or nursing homes are welcomed everywhere; indeed, many residents do not want to live right next to one (see an example from the Chicago area). Yet, many communities also are willing to do things to help seniors stay and thus there are property tax caps or programs to help seniors pay for utilities.

Maybe this is how affordable housing will start to be addressed in many American communities: seniors will need it in the coming years and decades. Once some of this housing is present, perhaps neighbors will see it is not as bad as they feared.

Majority of older Americans want to “age in place,” not move to the city

An article profiling some suburbanites who moved to the city as older adults admits that this isn’t the path desired by most Americans:

But you didn’t move back into the city, did you? Instead, you’re doing what the vast majority of American adults prefer to do: “aging in place.” According to a recent survey of adults 45-plus by AARP, 80 percent of respondents agreed that “what I’d really like to do is remain in my local community.”

But for those willing to make the exodus, the move into Chicago proper can be extremely rewarding…

Still, the Zimmermans’ move into town runs counter to overall trends. The 2015 data from the National Association of Realtors show that among “repeat buyers” (most likely to be boomers and Gen Xers), only 12 percent are buying in urban areas. An equal number are going to rural areas, 20 percent are going to small towns, but most — 53 percent — are buying in the suburbs.

And here’s a bit of a shocker: Although studies show that a third of retirees don’t expect to move at all, those who do move are not necessarily even downsizing. According to a recent survey by Age Wave, a firm that specializes in research on the aging population, only about half of retirees 50-plus who move after retiring choose a home that’s smaller; 19 percent move to a place of equivalent size, and 30 percent actually upsize.

There are always a good number of stories about urban revivals and people flocking to American big cities for the amenities and short commutes. However, the stories tend to obscure that the majority of Americans do not choose this path. When asked, many Americans say they want to live in small towns than anywhere else.

Particularly for older adults, the move to the city is probably only possible for those with significant means. Additionally, where many of those people want to move – is in nicer neighborhoods with cultural events, access to jobs, and newer construction – as opposed to living in many of neighborhoods of the city.

At the same time, aging in place in the suburbs presents unique challenges with its emphasis on single-family homes and driving. Homes can be difficult to maintain for decades and driving may not be possible at a certain point. Then, the spaciousness of the sprawling suburbs can be a significant hindrance to providing social services.

How should the 1995 Chicago heat wave deaths be commemorated?

An arts critics think about how Chicago might remember the deaths of hundreds in the 1995 heat wave:

After all, events that caused far fewer deaths have been the subject of remembrances, designed to honor those who died. July 1995 has yet to make into that civic category, but it deserves a spot. Perchance someone may convene a discussion between those who were involved in that crisis and ponder what was learned (I should note that Klinenberg also charges the media, including the management of this newspaper, with some culpability in the tardiness of the connecting of the dots, while acknowledging some formidable reportage).

More useful, though, might be an artistic response.

A commissioned symphonic piece, perhaps played outdoors. A concert honoring those who died. A dance work. Some stirring poetic words. Some deep collective thoughts from city leaders as to if, or how, the city has changed since then and where there still is work to be done. Some consideration of whether we now do a better job of taking care of each other, whatever the weather outside. It is worth the attention of the city’s artists. And politicians.

“Marking it as a historic event is important,” Egdorf said. “If only to remind people to look after their neighbors.”

Three quick thoughts:

1. Given the demographics of those who died, such a commemoration could also go a long ways toward addressing social divisions such as those involving age, class, and race. Important figures are often commemorated but what about a mass number of average residents?

2. For the social forces that contributed to who died in this particular heat wave, I recommend Heat Wave by sociologist Eric Klinenberg.

3. The idea of having an artistic response to this disaster is an interesting one. We often have solemn commemorations but this presents an opportunity to create something new of tragedy.

Intro to Sociology with 82 year old “godfather of Canadian menswear”

I imagine Intro to Sociology might be a little different with a 82 year old menswear magnate in class:

Even in his school duds — no tie, sometimes even jeans, if you can believe it — Harry Rosen was the best-dressed student this fall in Intro Sociology.

“I dress casually for class, but never without a jacket,” stated the godfather of Canadian menswear, who, at 82, decided this year to start studying humanities at Ryerson University.

He has been excused from exams because he still juggles part-time duty with his luxury clothing empire — he has a meeting Friday with a customer who still prefers to “Ask Harry,” semi-retired or not; some are now fourth-generation clients. He also fundraises for Bridgepoint Health and the University Health Network’s stem-cell team that created a research chair in his name, and serves on boards of institutions such as Ryerson…

History Prof. Martin Greig said he enjoyed the “octogenarian sitting amongst the 17- and 18-year-olds who made up the bulk of this first year course on medieval Europe. He was very attentive and seemed genuinely appreciative of my efforts. It was fun to have him there and I hope that he follows through with his intention to take my Cold War course in the winter term.”

“I love learning and I need that activity, in good measure because of my regrets at not getting a university-level education when I was young,” said Rosen, a self-taught retail mogul who went from high school straight to work, opening a modest men’s shop with his brother and then spending the next 60 years learning what he needed from carefully chosen partners.

It is good to hear about life-long learners who want to find out more about the world. Of course, this doesn’t have to happen in a college classroom. Yet, I think his example could go a long way with younger college students. With some of the figures about student learning in college and completion rates, his interaction with students might be the most valuable thing that happens in the classroom.

Building urban and suburban infrastructure better suited to the growing number of aging Americans

Emily Badger highlights a new issue: fitting existing and future infrastructure to the rapidly growing older population in the United States.

Cities everywhere need to begin recalibrating for this moment now (a better crosswalk speed, for instance, would be closer to 3 feet per second). But this generational age bomb is also arriving at precisely the worst moment to pay for those changes that will actually cost money. And then there is the problem of imagination: How do you get urban planners, transportation engineers, and anyone running around a city in their prime to picture the places where we live through the shaded eyes of an octogenarian?..

Aging Americans, Waerstad predicts, are going to experience a lot of pain before we really have infrastructure and systems in place to accommodate them, particularly in a country where we’ve spent decades creating communities that can only be navigated by car. And then what?…

The biggest challenge, though, won’t come from neighborhoods like Harvard Square, where a couple of curb cuts and some slower crosswalks could actually make a difference. It will come from suburban communities where there are often no sidewalks at all, let alone places to go at the other end of them…

The prospect of an aging suburbia poses a challenge to the whole way we’ve been designing communities in America, not just how we lay crosswalks and print tiny-font bus schedules. Waerstad argues that the demographics of monetary power in America will play a crucial role. More than half of the discretionary income in the United States belongs to people who are older than 50. And so the same spending might that helped create suburbia will soon be clamoring to reinvent it, to create town centers that actually have stores and doctor’s offices, to turn residential neighborhoods into something more diverse, to expand transit access.

Several good points made in this article. Aging is a cultural as well as physical issue. It would be interesting to discuss further how major cities and new developments do take this American emphasis on youth and translate into design. How would a new condo building look different? How about a new streetscape? Second, critics of suburbia have pointed this out for quite a while: American suburbs require driving, which tends to disadvantage those who can’t drive. Sociologist Herbert Gans noted this way back in his early 1960s classic The Levittowners when noting that teenagers and the elderly are stuck.

I assume there are some places we could look in order to learn about how to do this better. How do other countries tackle this? What about American communities geared toward older residents – what adjustments does Del Webb make?

Signs of the “demographic train wreck” in retirement colonies in Florida

One commentator suggests the expansion of retirement in Florida hints at larger demographic changes in the United States:

“There is a demographic train wreck coming that we are not really addressing nationally or in Florida,” says Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness.Over the next 20 years, the number of adults over 62 in the U.S. will double to 80 million, as the largest generation in American history retires. A demographic model that once looked like a pyramid, with a relatively small number of seniors with lots of younger people to support them, now more closely resembles a bobble-head doll. Right now in the U.S., four working age adults support each retiree. In 20 years, that ratio will slip to three to one nationally — and two to one in Florida…

Yet after years of stagnant population growth, Florida is adding new residents again, especially in those areas where it is growing gray. According to projections from Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, more than half of the five million migrants expected to flow into the state over the next 18 years will be 60 or older. This elderly population boom, fueled by the retirement of the Baby Boomers, the biggest generation in U.S. history, will profoundly change the face of Florida from a state that is simply very old, to a state with one of the oldest populations on the planet.

If it seems like there are a lot of wrinkled faces crowding the aisles at the Publix grocery store in Boca Raton now, just wait. By 2030, one in four Floridians will be older than 65, up from one in six today, with the 85-plus set the fastest-growing group, according to projections…

“Basically you are asking a bunch of old retired rich white people to vote for school bonds that benefit immigrant Latino kids,” says Jennifer Hochschild, a Harvard University professor who studies the intersection of politics, immigration and education. “This is a potential political disaster.”

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out. Currently, it sounds like developers have figured out there is quite a market for such retirement communities. I have wondered why these haven’t seem to have caught on in the same scalein more northern, even considering the weather.

Should retirees have the right or make the possibly wrong choice for the larger society by moving into more isolated communities of people their own age? I’m sure there are class and race differences present here as well – not everyone has the resources to move to Florida in their golden years. What happens when all of these older residents can no longer live in these communities and require more care?

Demographics suggest don’t invest in McMansions; invest in group homes

Looking at the demographic trends in the United States, one analyst suggests investors shouldn’t look to McMansions but rather group homes:

A large majority of older Americans want to remain in their homes, and more importantly, in their communities. The homes they raised their families in might not suit their purposes any longer, so what are their options? In 2005 (before the housing crises) a survey was taken by AARP of adults over the age of 50, and they reported that the homes they currently lived in wouldn’t accommodate them “very well” as they aged. So these seniors have a push-pull of wanting to “age in place” but their homes aren’t suitable for them to remain independent.

Seniors in the early stage of making a housing transition will remain in owner-occupied or rental housing and live independently. Only about 4.7 percent live in a group home and 7-10 percent live in a senior facility.

I see group homes as an area of opportunity. Group homes could become the answer for many seniors. I have been preaching for the last year or two that new homeowners aren’t looking for McMansions. New buyers (Echo Boomers and younger) want something simpler that gives them more flexibility. So what will happen to these McMansions? Group homes could be perfect. Many of these homes were built with private baths attached to each bedroom, large kitchens and great rooms. These homes can be adapted for disabilities by adding lifts and rails in bathrooms, for example. Then these homes can operate very well as group homes. This can give seniors the option to stay within their community, but not be isolated. Not to mention it’s a cash cow for investors, I’ve seen these kind of properties create a 100% positive cash flow (this would include covering the debt service).

As seniors make the enevitable change they will release much more housing than they absorb, but it will be absorbed by newly formed households. For example, between 2000 and 2010, people who began the decade age 55+ moved out of 10.5 million housing units. Most of these were owner-occupied dwellings. During the same period households grew (under the age of 55) by 21.8 million. Thus leaving about 11.2 million new households needing housing. Take into consideration that forty percent of this time was during a major recession where we saw much slower household formation.

I can see two quick issues with group homes. First, some of these places today are very expensive as they can require residents to buy a unit and pay extra fees on top of this. Second, communities would have to approve the zoning necessary for these homes.

This reminds me of Kate Bollick’s Atlantic cover story “All the Single Ladies.” She ends the story by discussing a “dormitory” for women in Amsterdam that helps provide community while giving adults some individual space. Bollick suggests this sort of living space could be the wave of the future but I think it might take some time to catch on in the United States.