Blacks in Kansas City still lag considerably behind whites when it comes to economics, education and health. That’s according to the Urban League of Greater Kansas City’s latest State of Black Kansas City report, which was assembled by a team of economists. The report says the disparities are largely the product of poverty and geography. Urban League CEO Gwendolyn Grant told Heartland Health Monitor’s Alex Smith she was disappointed by many of the findings.
Grant: I think, for me, the biggest issue was the lack of progress in certain areas and some regression in others with regard to social justice. And then the stagnation of our growth in economics. When we look at economics from 2006 to 2015, you can see it fluctuating but never getting any momentum to pull us closer to economic parity.
What are you seeing in health?
Grant: In the area of health, African Americans and Latinos are 50 percent more likely to be uninsured than their white counterparts, which is very critical if you can’t get access to quality health care because (if) you don’t have health insurance then that creates numerous other factors. We see a greater incidence of HIV/AIDS in both of the minority communities (Latino and African American) than in the white community. The death rates are higher for blacks than whites, but for Latinos, the overall index in the Latino community is higher than white. Latinos have longer life spans and fewer reproductive issues, and that creates a more positive index for them in the area of health.
The report looks at social justice issues. What are the findings there?
Grant: In social justice, that’s an area where there has definitely been a measurable decline for African Americans. When we published the study in 2010, the social justice index was 58 percent, and in 2015 it’s 52 percent. And I think what it measures is incarceration rates, sentencing, racial profiling with regard to driving while black. Blacks are more likely to be stopped than whites. They’re more likely to be imprisoned with much higher sentences. And so you look at that and then you look at what’s happening in the country in 2014 and 2015 with Ferguson and with New York and all of the challenges that are social justice-related – it’s not astonishing that there’s been some regression in that area.
How would you like to see this data used?
Grant: We’d like for these data to inform policy decision-making at the local level and nationally. And we’d like to see it used as an educational tool on college campuses. Certainly within the African American community, it will be used by the Urban Summit in March at our annual summit for planning and setting an agenda for programming and policy and advocacy.
Are there specific issues or pieces of legislation that the Urban League is advocating for?
Grant: We’re advocating for Medicaid expansion. That’s really, really important. And the absence of Medicaid expansion has so many repercussions. With the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion was a key piece of that, and for states to opt out, it creates a problem. So we are still – even though we know it’s probably not going to happen in the state of Missouri or the state of Kansas, we still feel that it is incumbent upon us to provide this information to all of our elected officials and continue to be an advocate for Medicaid expansion to insure that folks with the most need are able to access quality care — and that it not be an excessive burden on the public health institutions, such as Truman Medical Center in this area, who has a huge, huge burden of uncompensated care due to the absence of Medicaid expansion.
Alex Smith is a reporter for KCUR, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.