By Anne Price, President
A recent study led by researchers at Stanford, Harvard, and the Census Bureau is intensifying the national discussion around income inequality. The findings once again confirm that economic inequality is largely driven by race, not class, and that class status is not permanent among Blacks. Moreover, the report indicates that racial income inequality is not tied to family background or individual effort.
Perhaps the most staggering conclusion of the study is that income inequality between Blacks and whites is fueled almost entirely by the racial discrimination Black boys and men face in their lives.
While these findings are significant, it’s important to emphasize that examining income inequality, particularly with a primary focus on only half the population, can only take us so far in understanding how social mobility is shaped, and how well-being is understood.
As our close colleague Darrick Hamilton alludes in his response to the study, the lives of Black women and men are inextricably linked. What happens to our sons, our brothers, our partners has deep implications on a woman’s overall well-being, from our mental and physical health, to our economic fortunes. It is potentially harmful and a false dichotomy to separate the outcomes of Black men and women, and compare one sole marker of economic well-being — income — against one another.
Too often, for both men and women, factors beyond individuals’ control have a determinative impact on their economic futures. Alarming health inequities between Black and white women due to the immense stress caused by racism entrenched in all of the systems and institutions we interact with on a daily basis, for instance, are finally coming to the fore. Serena William’s birth story shows us how the highest of incomes and social status does not release you from the very real consequences of being a Black woman in America.
Serena is not alone. The maternal mortality rate (MMR) for Black women in America is downright ghastly. Noted in the recent report, Justice Doesn’t Trickle Down, by Andrea Flynn of the Roosevelt Institute, “…black women experience a maternal mortality rate three to four times the rate of white women, a discrepancy that holds constant across income levels.” In Serena’s case, she had to fight to have her doctors listen to her. While her income definitely gave her access to higher quality healthcare that played an important role in saving her life, in the end, it did not preclude her from facing a life threatening situation due to inherent racial bias within the medical system. We dive deeper into gender health inequities and their ties to economic well-being, in our latest podcast episode featuring Andrea.
This month, the Insight Center also co-released Fighting at Birth: Eradicating the Black-White Infant Mortality Gap. As stated in the report, “Black women experience the highest infant mortality rates (IMR) among any racial or ethnic group in the United States, and the Black IMR has been roughly twice that of the white IMR for over 35 years.” Again, across income levels, the Black IMR is higher than that of whites, and the IMR actually rises for Black mothers with a doctorate degree. This has implications for both Black women and men.
Let’s strive for policy solutions that address the fact that our lives are interconnected. Each individual’s fortune is impacted by a complex, distinct array of life circumstances, not a few isolated inputs experienced in a vacuum. We can and must work together to create a system that addresses the interconnected web of inputs that shape our opportunities and barriers. Our mothers, our children, our families, our communities depend on it.