California Lawmakers Probe Racial Health Disparities

California state legislators have convened public hearings to examine the disparities in health and health care between African-Americans, Latinos and whites.

California State Assemblyman Sandré Swanson, D-Oakland, said he formed the committee to examine the adverse conditions that some minority boys experience. (Photo: Democratic Committee)

We all know that Blacks and Latinos in this country have worse health and disproportionately suffer from a range of chronic diseases. In California alone, the stats are sobering. According to a 2009 statewide study conducted by the RAND Corp.:

•    Black infants were 2.6 times more likely to be born of very low birth weight than their White or Latino counterparts.
•    Latino boys/men were 4.1 times more likely to have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); Blacks were 2.5 times more likely.
•    Latino males under 17 were 4.8 times more likely to not have health insurance; Black males in that age group were slightly more likely than whites to have healthcare coverage.
•    Latino boys/men were 3.1 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS; Blacks were 6.9 times more likely.

But there seems to be a movement of advocates who want to change these numbers. Teens and men of color from throughout the state testified last week in Oakland before state lawmakers who are concerned about these racial and economic health gaps. There is a growing call nationwide to create new policies that will address the disparities.
The Oakland hearings were convened by the State Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color in California. The investigative news website California Watch reported:

Assemblyman Sandré Swanson, D-Oakland, said he formed the committee to examine the adverse conditions that some Black, Latino and Asian boys experience and their effects on state resources and agencies. It also will look at the connections among issues like health, foster care, truancy, school dropouts, unemployment and incarceration.

“We are being holistic in what we are trying to do here,” he said.

Youth advocates say the needs of this group must be addressed for the overall benefit of the state.

“If you have a segment of the population that is consistently failing and consistently incarcerated and marginalized and excluded, you can’t have a state population that is thriving,” said Marc Philpart, a senior associate with PolicyLink, which is coordinating a network of statewide nonprofits and researchers on the topic. “The good thing about the select committee is that it’s an institutional mechanism for getting greater attention on the policy side of these particular issues, because there’s no way that we can service our way out of these problems.”


The Oakland hearing is one of many that are slated to happen throughout the year — Los Angeles on March 2, Fresno on April 13 and Sacramento on August 3.

To learn more about health disparities on a nationwide scale, go to the National Institute on Minority Health and Disparities website.
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