Black Health Inequities Hit

Robert Rogers, San Bernardino County Sun, May 20, 2007

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Urgent calls for action came at a town-hall meeting dubbed “The State of Black California,” which borrowed the name from, and highlighted data produced by, a report the Black Caucus released in January.

Held in the county Behavioral Health Resource Center auditorium in Rialto, the meeting drew about 100 residents and community leaders. A handful of the state’s top black elected officials briefed attendees on the report and their legislative progress toward redressing the grim data.

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Working off a 44-page summary of the report, which took nearly two years to complete, caucus leaders outlined huge disparities between blacks and whites in infant mortality, economic prosperity, housing, health, education, victimization by violence and treatment in the criminal justice system. While the gaps were narrower, the state’s 2.2 million blacks also fared more poorly than Latinos in most indicators, particularly in the health of their newborns.

In the Inland Empire, the inequity between blacks and other groups was generally smaller than statewide numbers, a dynamic at least partially explained by Inland Empire whites and Asians being less affluent than their statewide counterparts, according to the report.

Ridley-Thomas was joined on stage by four caucus counterparts: Assemblywoman Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto, Assemblyman Mervin Dymally, D-Compton, and state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Montclair.

All championed their roles in the 18 bills generated by the Legislative Black Caucus that address various aspects of the social, health and economic inequities suffered by blacks statewide.

Bass pointed to the infant-mortality rates as particularly tragic, and unacceptable.

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According to the report, 11.6 black babies die per 1,000 live births, more than double the statewide rate for whites, Asians or Latinos. Inland Empire black infants suffer a rate slightly lower, at 10.7 per 1,000, while white and Latino infant mortality rates are slightly higher than the statewide numbers, at 5.5 and 6.8, respectively.

Among the legislative proposals unveiled by the Black Caucus are an action plan to revitalize low-income urban neighborhoods, develop pilot programs to address disproportionate rates of black male homicides, enact community-based programs aimed at infant mortality and bolster vocational curriculum in schools and adult job-training programs.

While political leaders bemoaned the numbers and hailed the report and its concomitant legislative action, some community members and local experts criticized the report’s presentation, saying the glossy format and smiling faces gracing the page undercut the severity of the crisis.

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The report was produced by academics at UC Berkeley and UCLA.

One bright spot in the dour data was civic participation, a category in which African Americans outpaced all other racial and ethnic groups.

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Index of inequities

A broad swath of data indicates African Americans statewide suffer from glaring socioeconomic inequality. The following data is specific to the Inland Empire.

Index data uses white Californians as a baseline of 1.0.

Economic Index: Black, 0.7; Latino, 0.68

23 percent of area blacks live in poverty, compared with 20.7 percent of Latinos and 10.2 percent of whites.

Housing Index: Black, 0.65; Latino, 0.76

49.7 percent of black families own homes compared with 63.8 percent of Latinos and 77.9 percent of whites.

Health Index: Black, 0.72; Latino, 1.23

At 1,207 per 100,000, blacks have by far the highest overall annual death rates. Latinos stand at 643, whites at 920.

Criminal Justice Index: Black, 0.72; Latino, 1.02

The felony arrest rate for blacks is 3.2 percent, compared with 1.8 percent for Latinos and 1.1 percent for whites.

[Editor’s Note: A PDF of the “The State of Black California” report can be read or downloaded here.]

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