Health of Women of Color Boosts U.S. Economy

Health status is too often ignored as a driver of economic prosperity. Through Obamacare, their well-being stands to improve, and so does their prosperity.

Farah Ahmad is a policy analyst for Progress 2050, an initiative at the Center for American Progress looking at issues relevant to a nation that will have no ethnic majority by 2050.
National Journal
Farah Ahmad
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Farah Ahmad
Dec. 4, 2013, midnight

As the Af­ford­able Care Act is be­ing im­ple­men­ted across the na­tion, the needs of wo­men of col­or must be taken in­to con­sid­er­a­tion. Today, wo­men of col­or com­prise 36.3 per­cent of our na­tion’s fe­male pop­u­la­tion, and will make up 53 per­cent of the fe­male pop­u­la­tion by 2050. As wo­men of col­or be­come a great­er share of the pop­u­la­tion, they ne­ces­sar­ily be­come a great­er share of the fu­ture work­force. As such, the health status of wo­men of col­or mat­ters a great deal to our eco­nomy — but they face a large num­ber of dis­pro­por­tion­ate health out­comes.

As ex­plored in “The State of Wo­men of Col­or,” a re­port I pro­duced with Sarah Iver­son for the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress, wo­men of col­or suf­fer more from dia­betes, obesity, heart dis­ease, hy­per­ten­sion, and cer­tain forms of can­cer. Ad­di­tion­ally, wo­men of col­or are over­ex­posed to poor en­vir­on­ment­al factors like pol­lu­tion and are of­ten em­ployed in sec­tors with high risk of ex­pos­ure to harm­ful tox­ins like those found in nail salons. They are dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­res­en­ted in low-wage jobs, which of­ten do not have em­ploy­er-sponsored health in­sur­ance.

In fact, wo­men of col­or ac­count for 53.2 per­cent of un­in­sured wo­men. This lack of in­sur­ance is one reas­on wo­men of col­or have high­er rates of sexu­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions and un­in­ten­ded preg­nan­cies — Lat­ina wo­men and Afric­an-Amer­ic­an wo­men ex­per­i­ence un­in­ten­ded preg­nan­cies at double and triple the rate of white wo­men.

For­tu­nately, some im­prove­ments for wo­men of col­or will be real­ized soon through the ACA, col­lo­qui­ally known as Obama­care, which awaits its full im­ple­ment­a­tion on Jan. 1. Obama­care has the po­ten­tial to re­duce health dis­par­it­ies among wo­men of col­or through pro­vi­sions that make in­sur­ance af­ford­able, ex­pand Medi­caid, end gender rat­ing by in­sur­ance com­pan­ies, provide free fam­ily plan­ning ser­vices, and of­fer cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ate care, among oth­ers.

In fact, wo­men of col­or have already be­nefited from Obama­care pro­vi­sions already im­ple­men­ted, such as the no-cost pre­vent­ive health pro­vi­sion. Today, an es­tim­ated 5.1 mil­lion Afric­an-Amer­ic­an wo­men, 4.9 mil­lion Lat­i­nas, and 2.5 mil­lion Asi­an-Amer­ic­an wo­men with private health in­sur­ance are re­ceiv­ing ex­pan­ded pre­vent­ive-ser­vice cov­er­age un­der the ACA. And more than 8.5 mil­lion wo­men of col­or will gain the im­port­ant abil­ity to ac­cess af­ford­able health in­sur­ance through the ACA mar­ket­place, in­clud­ing 4.6 mil­lion Lat­i­nas, 970,000 Asi­an-Amer­ic­an wo­men, and 3 mil­lion Afric­an-Amer­ic­an wo­men. Through Obama­care, the health of wo­men of col­or stands to im­prove, and so does their prosper­ity.

Health status is too of­ten ig­nored as a driver of eco­nom­ic prosper­ity. But ac­cess to health in­sur­ance and health ser­vices im­proves health out­comes and has a sig­ni­fic­ant im­pact on one’s abil­ity to main­tain a job or get an edu­ca­tion. As such, the health of our work­force con­trib­utes to eco­nom­ic growth. As ex­plored in our re­port, the United States must in­vest in its chan­ging pop­u­la­tion by ad­dress­ing the gaps wo­men of col­or face in health — as well as in eco­nom­ic se­cur­ity, poverty, edu­ca­tion­al at­tain­ment, polit­ic­al lead­er­ship, and en­tre­pren­eur­ship — in or­der to be com­pet­it­ive in the fast-grow­ing glob­al mar­ket.

Elim­in­at­ing these gaps is good for wo­men of col­or and their fam­il­ies, but it is also good for every­one be­cause it helps strengthen our work­force and pur­chas­ing power — and that’s good for the eco­nomy. We need a fu­ture work­force that is pre­pared, edu­cated, and healthy to take up and suc­ceed in the high-im­pact jobs in the in­nov­at­ive in­dus­tries that our na­tion seeks so much to cre­ate.

In­vest­ing in wo­men of col­or is an op­por­tun­ity for our coun­try to achieve two goals at the same time — im­prove the live­li­hood of wo­men of col­or and strengthen our na­tion as whole. Not of­ten do op­por­tun­it­ies to ac­com­plish two goals at once come along, and it is even less of­ten that we cap­it­al­ize on them. But if we em­brace this op­por­tun­ity, we stand to bright­en our na­tion’s di­verse fu­ture.

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