Life Expectancy for Black and Hispanic Americans is Declining — Here’s What Can Be Done About It

An African American man in a hospital gown sits on a hospital bed

The current health and economic crisis has revealed the racial and economic inequities present in the health care system. Recently, The British Medical Journal (BMJ) published research that found in 2020 life expectancies in the United States took the largest plunge since World War II. Average life expectancy dropped 3.25 years for Black Americans and 3.88 for Hispanic Americans, while life expectancy for white Americans dropped just 1.36 years.

Factors Contributing to Lower Life Expectancy

One important factor contributing to these large declines in life expectancy is unequal access to health care. Due to the continuing negative impacts of systemic racism, including redlining. — Redlining occurs when people are limited in where they can live due to unfair, racist practices by banks. As a result of decades of redlining practices, the geographic areas where Black and Hispanic Americans live are more likely to have fewer and lower quality health care facilities.

Overall wealth also impacts life expectancy rates. African American and Hispanic Americans hold significantly less generational wealth, leaving them with much less wealth and less potential for economic mobility than white Americans. An Urban Institute study showed a direct correlation between income and health — with wealthy Americans being far healthier than those living in poverty. Additionally, low-income people are more likely to be uninsured, making both emergency and preventive care less accessible.

Combined, the lack of access to high-quality health care as well as higher rates of chronic conditions — both byproducts of systemic racism — are fueling the disparity in life expectancy we are seeing between Black and white Americans.

The 2% Solution: Supporting a Solution

One solution, which Robert F. Smith has advocated for, is The 2% Solution. This groundbreaking proposal encourages large corporations to donate 2% of their profits — similar to the charitable donations given by the average household — to investing in communities most impacted by system racism. The goal of The 2% Solution is ultimately  to close the racial wealth gap for future generations.

Smith has long-supported organizations and projects aimed at improving health care for marginalized groups. He is an avid supporter of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which fights a disease impacting 1 in 8 Black men. Smith has also donated over $27 million to Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation working to support the 12% of Black women battling breast cancer. Both of these diseases can be cured if caught early enough, but without equitable access to preventative medicine and education, it’s harder to diagnose early enough.

The 2% Solution can work towards taking real steps to ensuring that African American and Hispanic families receive adequate health care, by ultimately making health care more accessible for communities of color.

To learn more about health disparities impacting people of color, read about National Minority Health Month and the health inequities impacting women of color.