The Gap: In a Single Statistic, the Measure of a Racial Tragedy

Jonathan Tilove, Newhouse News Service, May 4

There are nearly 2 million more black adult women than men in America, stark testimony to how often black men die before their time.

Worse yet, with nearly another million black men in prison or the military, the reality in most black communities across the country is of an even greater imbalance——a gap of 2.8 million, or 26 percent, according to Census Bureau figures for 2002. The comparable disparity for whites was 8 percent.

Perhaps no single statistic so precisely measures the fateful, often fatal price of being a black man in America, or so powerfully conveys how beset black communities are by the violence and disease that leave them bereft of brothers, fathers, husbands and sons. And because the number of black males plummets as they move from their teens to their 20s, the gap first appears with the suddenness of a natural disaster.

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In the March/April issue of Health Affairs, Dr. David Satcher, surgeon general under President Clinton and now the interim president of Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, exposes the core of the problem: Between 1960 and 2000, the disparity between mortality rates for black and white women narrowed while the disparity between the rates for black and white men grew wider.

Exponentially higher homicide and AIDS rates play their part, especially among younger black men. Even more deadly through middle age and beyond are higher rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

“The degree of loss and death that people in those communities are experiencing at a young age is just unfathomable,” says Arline T. Geronimus of the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan.

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The imbalance between the numbers of black men and women does not exist everywhere. There is no gap to speak of in places with relatively small black populations like Minneapolis, Minn., Portland, Ore., San Francisco and San Diego, and Seattle actually has more black men than women. But it is the rule in those communities with large concentrated black populations that are the hub of African-American life, and it is as good an indicator as any of things gone wrong.

There are more than 30 percent more black women than men in Baltimore, New Orleans, Chicago and Cleveland, and in smaller cities like Harrisburg, Pa., Syracuse, N.Y., Flint, Mich., and Mobile and Birmingham, Ala.

There are 36 percent more black women than men in New York City, and 37 percent more in Saginaw, Mich., in Philadelphia, and in East Orange.

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In 2000, there were more black males under 18 than females in East Orange. And yet, there were 29 percent more black women than men in their 20s.

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