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Addressing Health Disparities in a time of Economic Crisis

Addressing Health Disparities in a time of Economic Crisis

March 26, 2009

On Wednesday, the Kaiser Family Foundation hosted a live webcast that explored the national economic downturn’s impact on health in communities of color. Hosted by the Foundation’s Senior Policy Analyst Cara James, PhD, the forum facilitated the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Medical Director Dr. Lauren Smith, Howard University’s Chair of Economics William Spriggs, PhD, and the Consumer Union’s Senior Attorney Adrienne Hahn, Esq.

The diverse panel of experts discussed the impact of unemployment, housing forecloures, and state budget crises on communities across the country. Dr. Spriggs described the dramatic affects of the downturn on Black and Latino populations, noting the housing crisis hit Black communities early through unregulated sub prime loans. Spriggs further discussed unemployment impacts, citing a 14% unemployment rate for Blacks and a growing 8-14% rate for Latinos who have been devastated by construction job losses. Unemployment rates continue to rise across all education levels for these populations, and black wealth has experienced the largest decrease since the 1930s.

Dr. Lauren Smith discussed the influence of such job and housing losses on community health, describing the difficulties faced by families with smaller incomes, insecure housing and greater mental stress. Food insecurity, out of pocket healthcare costs, and unmanaged chronic disease conditions were all mentioned as challenges. Dr. Smith noted the discordance of greater community needs for social supports such as WIC, school lunch, and healthcare coverage, while states and philanthropy are making deep budget cuts and reducing services.

As the economic downturn continues, the panel of experts all noted the importance of partnership between the federal government and the states on these complex issues. Dr. Spriggs affirmed the federal recovery act’s inclusion of healthcare reforms, stating this effort is a vital investment in the health of all American communities. Dr. Smith remarked on the resources distributed to states through the legislation, needed to support wellness, public health and prevention programs.

The 1 hour webcast is available on the Kaiser Family Foundation website.
Camille Watson