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How the Racial Wealth Gap Affects Health Equity

Everything you need to know about the racial wealth gap and how we can address it.

The unequal distribution of wealth between racial groups (also called the racial wealth gap) significantly affects public health.

Growing evidence demonstrates that good health is connected to having wealth. The roots of enslavement and settler colonialism and the centuries of policies that have ripped land and resources from Black and Hispanic folks in the United States all contribute to this gap. Some of these policies include red-lining, segregation, the discriminatory implementation of the New Deal and the G.I. bill, and others. The gap between Black folks and white folks is most significant. White families hold nearly eight times the amount of wealth as Black families.

Wealth Supports Health

Wealth supports health by allowing wealthy families access to better health care, to live in health-promoting neighborhoods (i.e. with fewer environmental hazards such as living near the exhaust from a highway or toxic chemical of nearby factories) and diminished stress from financial challenges.

A lack of wealth has detrimental impacts that can lead to reduced spending on medical care, groceries and other health-related expenses while foregoing preventative or emergency medical treatments. Liquid assets such as savings and stock ownership, as well as home ownership, are crucial in providing a safety net that helps protect a personโ€™s health. Intergenerational wealth also plays a major role in widening the racial wealth gap.

The Widening of the Gap

The Black-white racial health inequities have widened over time. The ratio of mortality from coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, and infant mortality between Black and white folks was greater in the late 1990s than in 1950.

And the pandemic widened the life expectancy gap of Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black populations even further with larger declines in life expectancy over the two-year period than non-Hispanic white populations.

What Can We Do?

How can we address the racial wealth gap? We need both systems change and household and community interventions:

In accordance with National Health Center Week, we are reminded of the crucial role community health centers (CHCs) play in helping to address inequities in health and well-being for communities of color living in poverty.