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Car Insurance: Where Drivers Pay More in Minority Neighborhoods

In a situation where your hands are kind of tied, you just bite the bullet and go with it. So we’re in East Garfield Park, Chicago. We’re maybe seven miles from downtown, not extremely far. This neighborhood is known as Andersonville.

We’re on the north side of Chicago close to the lake, and maybe only about a half a mile west of the lake. The main thoroughfare, Clark, has tiny shops, and restaurants, and all of that. We have speeding cameras. We have red light cameras throughout our community, which is a poor community anyway. The insurance industry has spent years, actually, fighting not to release the data that we use in this analysis, which is data about risk and claims payouts per zip code.

What we noticed was also the way that the company set rates is, it’s a black box. You can’t see inside of it. They just assign each zip code a certain factor. And how did they come up with that? It’s hard to know. And what we found is that in many cases it just didn’t appear to correlate with the true risk in those neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are the cut-through places for commuters coming home. Parts of it are very busy. The bulk of it, the most residential, empties out during the day.

People drive to work. And, yes, people do have their cars broken into. I’ve had my tires stolen here. I figure there’s no more traffic here than maybe anywhere else, because everywhere you go, you got people working, and you got schools. So I feel like it’s pretty much the same. Maybe even less, because even though you need a car, not everybody can afford one. So in a poor neighborhood there’s probably even fewer people with cars.

And I mean, if I’m a thief or I’m a crook, I’m not going to rob somebody poor. I’m not going to get much. If I go to their neighborhood, I can get a whole lot more. East Garfield Park is an example of a situation where it definitely feels risky to be there.

There are gunshots during the day. But, in terms of insurers’ risk, in terms of what they have to pay out in claims, whether it’s because no one can afford a car, or because people aren’t having accidents because they’re not afraid to drive there, I’m not sure. But, regardless, there’s not a lot of payouts going on in that neighborhood. And so it kind of plays with your idea of risk. It’s almost like, do you eat or do you pay insurance? At times.

If you think about it, that’s two weeks worth of groceries for me and my family. I mean it’s extreme. Especially when you’re considered to be a good driver. You know what I mean? So if you’re going to make me pay so much and I’m a good driver, I can only imagine what you’re making a bad driver pay.

Part of you, it doesn’t surprise. Because you know that, unfortunately, that’s the way so much of the world works. It’s hard to be a good consumer in a situation where the other side has all the information and you don’t. But I think there’s also a question about demanding more from the regulators. This data is available to them we had to file a public records request to get it. They could also be doing this type of analysis.

And it seems to me that more investigation is warranted into whether these disparities that we saw are really truly warranted by the risk. I don’t think that a lot of people who make the rules really know what it is to be at the bottom, in a sense. I would just say, Make it fair. If I’m a good driver, if I’m a safe driver, I’ve been loyal to you, I’ve been paying my bills on time. I think that it’s time to give back.