Because of Race, Black Americans Might as Well Live in Another Country

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Jul 15, 2020

Public health experts and advocates have said COVID-19 would expose the nation’s health divide across race, but in a series of data sets recently published (July 13) by Bloomberg going back to 2016, found that Black Americans might as well be living in a completely different country than their white and Asian peers. For example, 2017 research found that the average life span is 78.6 years for the nation, 81.8 for Latinx people and 86.3 years for Asian Americans, people living in Mexico, Brazil and China were all expected to live longer than Black folks at 74.9 years. 

According to the writer Ben Schott, the six data sets—infant mortality, reading literacy, unemployment, affordable healthcare, obesity and life expectancy— “illustrate the very real, inherently interconnected, and profoundly consequential impact of race and ethnicity on the American dream.” To help make the broad stroke comparisons, as Schott described the data, countries that were similar economically to the U.S. or that showed interesting outliers were chosen. 

Below are some important takeaways from the data:


  • Infant mortality: Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Schott found in 2016 that for every 1,000 births, Black babies, before their first year, had a mortality rate 16 times that of Iceland at 11.4. The chance of a Black baby surviving was closer to rates for Turkey and Mexico, compared to the average for the U.S.  
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  • Affordable healthcare: While 30.4 million Americans were uninsured in 2018, the numbers by race are stark: 26.7 percent of Latinx, 15.2 percent of Black,  9 percent of white and 8.1 percent of Asians had no health insurance at all. With numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and OECD, Black and Latinx Americans fall way below the average for more than a dozen countries, including Mexico, Poland and Columbia.
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  • Life expectancy: The CDC, OECD and a 2015 study from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health showed that Black men were expected to outlive residents in India and South Africa by two-and-a-half and eight years, respectively, at 71.5 years, while the nation’s entire Black population fell four years behind the U.S.’ average of 78.6. At a life expectancy age of 74.9 years, Mexico, Brazil and China will all live longer lives.
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With numbers like the above that show how Black Americans still fall behind other countries in a myriad of ways, it’s hard to argue against race as a major factor for who gets to live and for how long.

As Schott wrote, “From birth to ­­­death, and at every stage of life therein, an American’s race and ethnicity will help define which America they inhabit: one of the most advanced countries, or one still struggling with development.”

To see the numbers for all six data sets, visit Bloomberg here.