Being poor has an adverse effect on one’s health and poorer communities have a higher mortality rate. That’s no secret, admits Amani Nuru-Jeter, associate professor at University of California Berkeley.
What is less well known is how race plays into it. It appears that living in poverty takes a harsher toll on black Americans than white Americans, according to the conclusions from Nuru-Jeter’s research.
Setting out to find out how income inequality affected communities, Nuru-Jeter and her colleagues found that living in poverty leads to higher death rates for black Americans.
“When we did the statistical analysis, the databases showed us that for one unit increase in income inequality … [there] were 400 to 500 fewer deaths among whites and 27 to 37 [more deaths] among African Americans,” Nuru-Jeter told the Guardian.
This means that living in poverty can lead to more deaths for blacks communities, but not white ones.
Nuru-Jeter and her team spent eight months combining data from the US census bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics and the Lewis C Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research for 107 metropolitan areas with a black population of at least 10%.
The difference between mortality rates for black and white Americans was much greater than she expected. The team especially did not expect to see fewer deaths in white communities as income inequality went up. That, however, can be attributed to economic segregation, which is more prevalent in black neighborhoods, Nuru-Jeter theorized.
She said that poor white Americans are more likely to reap the benefits of living near areas with better resources and higher incomes, while poor black Americans tend to live in relatively isolated inner-city neighborhoods.
“When low-income whites can reside in close proximity to higher-income whites then they reap the benefits of living in a higher-income area and everything that goes along with that,” Nuru-Jeter said.
In black communities, economic segregation is much higher. Higher-income black people are more likely to move away from low-income black people. Poor black communities often struggle with higher crime rates, fewer grocery stores, a higher proportion of liquor stores and less green space such as parks.
“In terms of opportunity to lead the healthy life, the environment doesn’t really support that,” Nuru-Jeter said.
In general, black Americans are more likely to struggle financially.
In 2013, the poverty rate for black Americans was almost three times that of white Americans – 27.2% compared to 9.6%. That same year, median household income for white Americans was more than $58,000, while for black Americans it was just $34,500.
In November, the unemployment rate for black Americans was 10.6%, more than twice the unemployment rate of white Americans, which was 4.6%.
A college education, commonly believed to be a ticket out of poverty, is expensive. In fact, about half of black college students graduate withmore than $25,000 in student loans. Yet even a college degree doesn’t guarantee that they will be better off. In fact, a recent Demos analysis of Americans’ net worth revealed that white high school dropouts have about the same wealth that black college graduates do.
As a result, some black Americans are often stuck in poverty.
What is killing black Americans?
The mortality rate in the study considers all types of death, from homicide to cardiovascular disease to infant mortality.
“It’s a crude measure of population health, but a very reliable and sensitive indicator of the well-being of the population,” Nuru-Jeter said.
“We were interested in population health as opposed to the health of individual people. As income inequality in the area increases, what does that say about how well the population in general is doing?”
The black communities were doing much worse than the white ones, she found.
In general, the black population in the US has poorer health.
A recent Gallup poll showed that black Americans are more likely to be obese and have high blood pressure. More than a third of black Americans surveyed by Gallup are obese.
The survey – for which more than 272,000 Americans were interviewed – found that for every age group, black Americans were more likely to be obese than their white, Asian and Hispanic counterparts. Almost half of black Americans 45 to 64 years old were also being treated for high blood pressure. For those 65 and older, 70% were receiving such treatment. Black Americans are also twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.
Not only are black Americans more likely to suffer from these chronic conditions, but they are also more likely to be uninsured. According to a census survey from 2011, the uninsured rate for black Americans was 20.8%; for whites, it was 11.7%.
The Affordable Care Act has made a dent in the number of uninsured Americans, but many still remain. Overall, the uninsured rate for black Americans is 17.3%,according to Kaiser Family Foundation.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, by June 2014 about 1.7 million black Americans 18 to 64 years old obtained health insurance since the official roll-out of the health insurance marketplace in October 2013.
While many uninsured black Americans might qualify for Medicaid expansion, the states where they live might not have expanded their Medicaid yet. Nearly 60% “of uninsured African Americans with incomes below the Medicaid expansion limit reside in states that were not planning to expand Medicaid as of late June 2013”, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.