How health inequalities play out in Twin Cities’ communities of color


A medical study out the other day illustrates once again how America’s health inequalities play out in communities of color.

Black men and women are more than twice as likely to die from coronary heart disease as their white counterparts, according to the research coming from University of Alabama doctors and just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Those who keep an eye on Minnesota’s health numbers aren’t surprised by the discrepancies between whites and non-whites, and the rich and poor (many of the latter of whom are minorities). They see such discrepancies in the Twin Cities area as well.

Minnesota numbers

Just look at the number of uninsured in Minnesota, suggests Christina Wessel, deputy director of the Minnesota Budget Project.

“Communities of color have a lot less access to health insurance’’ because of their poverty, Wessel explains, pointing to the U.S. Census numbers released this fall for Minnesota.

Consequently, “They’re less likely to seek out preventative health care. They wait until it’s a crisis before they actually get the care they need,’’ she says.

She shares these telling 2011 Census numbers, lifted from the project’s Minnesota Budget Bites blog:

“The poverty rates for blacks, Asians and American Indians in Minnesota are significantly higher than the national average for these communities….,” Wessel writes, though she adds that health insurance coverage here is higher.

She further points out a “dramatic decline” in economic circumstances for Minnesota’s American Indian population, where the poverty rate has increased by 10 percentage points in recent years.

Wealthier, better educated and, yes, white Minnesotans are mostly healthier than persons in minority communities in the Twin Cities, as demonstrated, too, in a 2010 report commissioned by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation and compiled and then updated this fall by Wilder Research.

The new report, issued in May, uses updated data and shows some encouraging signs.

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It is made possible by support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, and some Minneapolis Foundation donor advisors.

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Key findings

A summary of key findings emailed over by Wilder and the Foundation reveal:

  • There’s a narrowing of life expectancy rates between the most and least affluent Twin Cities-area neighborhoods, meaning now children born into the wealthiest zip codes live 6.6 years longer than youngsters born into low-income neighborhoods, rather than eight, as shown in the earlier study.
  • Average life expectancy is 84 in those highest income neighborhoods compared to 76 in neighborhoods at the lowest end of the income scale.
  • Age-adjusted mortality rates improved among all racial/ethnic groups except U.S.-born African Americans. There was a 3 percent increase among U.S. –born blacks.
  • Mortality rates among American Indian and U.S.-born African-Americans remain 3 percent to 3.5 percent higher than the regional average.

Author of the report Melanie Ferris, a research scientist, has said the second report demonstrated again the “strong relationships between socioeconomic status, race and health.” She suggests later numbers reveal some narrowing of health inequities but the study is a “snapshot” that “may not reflect larger trends.’’

“In addition, we do not know how future health outcomes may be impacted by the recent economic downturn,’’ she says.

The recent study reflected an increase in poverty rates from 7 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2010 and an almost $9,000 decrease in average median household income in the Twin Cities area between 2000 and 2010.