The shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri has set off more than a week of protests, raising the issue of racial tensions in the United States to the national level.
Given that racism deals with social perceptions and belief systems, it is incredibly complex and difficult to qualify and quantify as people can experience racism both on an individual level and on a group level. But there is hard evidence of the continued gap in life expectancy between black and white Americans, a recent Health Affairs study has shown.
The black-white life expectancy gap has been shrinking over the past 20 years; on a national level, the gap is 5.4 years for males and 3.8 years for females. However, some states are seriously lagging behind.
The latest study relied on data from the National Vital Statistics System for the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Five states were excluded — Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont — because they all had extremely small populations of black Americans, so small that the data couldn’t be considered reliable.
At 3.1 million people, New York State has the largest population of black Americans. And, at the same time, New York has seen an incredible drop in the life expectancy gap over the last 20 years. In 1990, the life expectancy of a black male in New York was 63.9 years. It shot up to 75.4 years by 2009.
Other states that helped reduce the black-white life expectancy gap included Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey, according to the study.
That’s the good. Now for the bad: Washington, DC was dead last. In the nation’s capitol, life expectancy for black Americans over the past 20 years has remained “dramatically more unequal than every other state.” In 1990, the gap was 14.4 years for males and 10.4 years for females and has not seen any significant change since then.
Other states that kept the black-white gap from falling included: Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
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