As the Associated Press’ Suzanne Gamboa points out, children of racial minorities and immigrants have historically faced a lackluster landscape when it comes to education and health care. And as America continues its trend toward becoming a minority-majority country, the U.S. workforce will become increasingly comprised of sicker and poorer Latinos and African Americans. Those disparities will increasingly burden public health entitlements and overall health care spending.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Professor Leonard Greenhalgh of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business notes that existing trends in poverty doom many African American and Latino families to poor neighborhoods that have under-performing schools, leading to lower graduation rates, lower incomes, and considerably less lifetime assets. A 2009 Pew Research Center analysis found that the median wealth of white households is a staggering 20 times that of black households, and 18 times that of Hispanic households.
Those educational and economic disparities were only made worse by the recession as states implemented massive cuts to social programs — and that trend will likely persist due to conservative reluctance to expand universal pre-school, resources for low-income neighborhoods, and participation in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Since health care entitlements are largely funded by the tax system, lower-paid immigrant and minority populations will end up paying less into the system than their wealthier counterparts, who had more initial access to opportunity.
One would think that, since the poor pay less into the system, they eventually get a greater return on their investment once they qualify for universal public programs like Medicare. But that isn’t true. Since low-income Americans have less access to hospitals or affordable health insurance earlier on in life, they become sicker, die younger, and consequently consume less health care services in old age. The health care services they do consume tend to be more expensive, since blacks and Latinos are more likely to be obese, diabetic, or have a heart condition, as a consequence of the stresses caused by economic inequality.
Investments in minority and immigrant education could go a long way towards bridging the income gap and shoring up health care entitlements. But unless states with a large number of minorities begin providing their residents with more cost-effective preventative and primary health care services, the existing disparities in health as it relates to wealth and class will only continue getting worse.