Left Behind

This cover story is a great example of the work that can come out of a partnership between a reporter and a designer.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government put together a program to help small businesses stay afloat called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Businesses who applied could be awarded basically free money after following some guidelines.

The government called on banks to distribute the funds, allowing them to charge small fees for processing applications.

After this program was in full effect, American City Business Journals, the BBJ’s parent company, and a few other media giants sewed the government to release data from these loans. In July, the feds released a redacted version of the data. This is what BBJ money reporter Holden Wilen and I used to create this story.

Whenever Holden gets his hands on finance-related data, he usually checks for disparities among minority populations (there usually are). Baltimore has a majority-Black population, so if the majority of loans went to white-owned businesses, that would be a story. Since applicants for the PPP program were not required to provide their race or ethnicity, it was hard to decipher if minorities were given the same opportunities as white-owned businesses were. That’s were I was brought in.

Luckily, and at the same time unluckily, the remnants of segregation and redlining still exist in Baltimore. Called the “White L” and “Black Butterfly” by former Morgan State professor Lawrence Brown, there are areas of the city are majority-Black and majority-white. (See below)

To find disparities in the loans, I created a rough map of the locations of the businesses that received loans of above $150,000 in Baltimore ZIP codes. (As of press time, the government had not released the names or addresses of businesses with loans less than that.) Using census data, I overlaid a map of the census tracts with majority Black populations. 

The results were staggering. You could clearly see the “L” of the “White L”, and there were significantly fewer loans in majority-Black tracts.

Upon this realization, the story was born.

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