UChicago scholars study how municipal IDs can reach marginalized communities

SSA forum to host Chicago city clerk, discuss survey data of CityKey program

Over the last year, more than 30,000 Chicagoans have enrolled in CityKey, a new municipal ID card created to help marginalized communities. Along the way, University of Chicago scholars have closely studied the program, collecting survey data from more than 7,000 enrollees to illuminate its impact.

Early results of that research will be unveiled May 2 during a public forum at the UChicago School of Social Service Administration. Starting at 2 p.m., the event will feature SSA faculty members and co-principal investigators Angela S. García, Yanilda González and Marci Ybarra discussing their findings as part of discussion of how and why cities attempt to foster local inclusion. City Clerk Anna M. Valencia, whose office runs the CityKey program, also will deliver a keynote speech.

The UChicago researchers’ work is already revealing a substantial demand for the card across the city: Launched in April 2018, the CityKey ID—which combines a government-issued ID with a transit card, library card and local discounts—has reached residents from every zip code in Chicago. Results from six months of survey data show that 57 percent of respondents experienced barriers in accessing at least one type of public and private services due to lack of U.S. government-issued ID. This includes entering buildings, like schools and government offices, using banking and financial services, and providing ID to police officers and security guards.

“This is my first government-issued ID,” one woman told researchers during a follow-up qualitative interview, part of the study’s next steps. “The police come, and I show them my ID. I’ve been here 20 years—imagine that. How can I not be happy about this? I’ve been in Chicago for 20 years, and I’ve never had an ID. It feels great.”

Data from the first six months of UChicago’s yearlong survey of CityKey enrollees show that a range of Chicagoans have accessed the card. Nearly half of survey respondents—46 percent—were non-U.S. citizens. Latinx residents accounted for a majority of responses at 56 percent, followed by black (25%), white (8%) and Asian residents (7%). Approximately 5 percent of respondents were currently experiencing homelessness, and 4.5 percent had been formerly incarcerated.

García, a sociologist who studies state and local immigration laws, spoke recently about the origins of the collaboration between UChicago and the Office of the City Clerk, and some early takeaways from her research with her colleagues.

How did you and your colleagues collaborate with the city clerk’s office?

We approached the City Clerk about a research collaboration in February of 2018, less than three months before the launch of CityKey. Initially, we were just feeling each other out: Would we want to work together? What would that look like? Could we put something together to serve the city’s needs as well as our own?

In those early conversations, we learned that the city wasn’t collecting data on enrollees. This was an intentional effort to safeguard people’s personal data and encourage enrollment in the program that was driven by the organizations partnering with the city around CityKey’s design and implementation. We started to think, “The city is doing this really interesting thing, but has no way to evaluate its impact and who it’s reaching.” So then, given that the city would not have administrative data we could analyze, we developed ideas about how we could design that data collection ourselves.

How does the data collection process work?

Our partnership with the city gives us access to the places where enrollment sites are happening. The city works with us to facilitate our ability to be in field and collect data so we can get research assistants assigned and in place. The city has enrollment at City Hall and at mobile enrollment sites all over Chicago: schools, community colleges, block parties, senior centers and other diverse places all over the city where people gather. Aldermen have also sponsored enrollment sites during city sticker season.

Our research assistants include more than 20 really excellent students, mostly from SSA. We place them at sites with tablets that have a five- to seven-minute survey in six languages. Our RAs are trained in surveying and have a range of language skills: Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, French, Tamil and others. We’ve had 93 percent coverage of enrollment sites so far. The surveys tell us who is enrolling in CityKey and why, alongside how respondents received information about the program and experiences accessing a range of public and private services prior to receiving CityKey.

In addition to surveying enrollees, we’ve started drawing samples of people who agreed in the survey to a qualitative follow-up interview, selecting those who fall into buckets of the most marginalized to understand how CityKey has affected them. Some people are getting CityKey for discounts and to be allies, but we’re focusing on the most marginalized: People who are currently or formerly experiencing homelessness, those who were formerly incarcerated, low-income African American and Latinx citizens, and non-citizen immigrants.

Are there any findings that stand out from the qualitative interviews?

It’s very early, but we see some things in reviewing early transcripts. Several people who are non-citizens have expressed the sentiment that CityKey does not distinguish them the way a consular ID or foreign passport would as a marker for immigration status. Interviews with people who were formerly incarcerated have emphasized the importance of these IDs on interactions with police, where being able to present a CityKey provides a safeguard against being detained or taken in.

We have also seen some frustration in early qualitative interviews with limitations around the access that CityKey provides. Some residents had higher expectations for what the card could do, especially in financial services for opening checking and savings accounts. The sentiment is that not enough banks are accepting it. That’s some of the usefulness of this component of our research for the city: The qualitative interviews will help program managers think about how to evolve the CityKey program and create partnerships given enrollees’ feedback on their experiences using the card.

We will not be making recommendations to the city. We’ll present the data. That’s where the dividing line lies between researchers and city program managers. The city will do with the data what they want.

What has surprised you so far in your research?

We didn’t anticipate how big of a demand there would be for the card. For example, I arrived at an enrollment site 30 minutes before it opened last July. There had been a big rain the night before. Around 50 people were in line already—many with blue tarps folded under their arms and golf umbrellas who had waited overnight to get a place in line, some rotating in and out of line with others in cars parked nearby. The first person in line was a man from Colombia who said he’d been there since 2 a.m. That’s indicative of how strong the demand is, how eager people are for the card. An ID issued by the city of Chicago has lot of power in terms of the potential to give people access to tangible services as well as a sense of local inclusion. These are issues that we’ll explore in depth with our qualitative interviews.