RACISM AS A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS: TRACKING LAWS AND POLICIES

Since 2010, the federal government as well as several state and local governments have acknowledged that social factors outside an individual’s control cause health disparities.

Social Determinants of Health, Healthy People 2020

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has used the Healthy People 2020 Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) framework that recognizes five key areas of social factors connected to racial health disparities, which includes education, employment, health care, housing, and law enforcement. As of 2018, racial health disparities continue and are estimated to cost the United States $175 billion in lost life years (3.5. million lost years times $50,000 per life year) and $135 billion per year in excess health care costs and untapped productivity.

These disparities persist because of the failure to account for and address the system of racism. Racism is a social system where a dominant racial group categorizes people into racial groups based on a philosophy of inferiority in comparison to the group in power.  In the United States, this hierarchy is reinforced by social norms and institutional practices. The system of racism causes racial inequalities in the key areas of the SDOH (education, employment, health care, housing, and law enforcement), which are associated with racial health disparities.  

Across the country, a number of jurisdictions have started to formally recognize the connection between racism and the SDOH, mostly in response to police violence against Black people and nationwide demands for racial justice. By declaring racism as a public health crisis, governments not only recognize that racism exists, but also acknowledge that they have a responsibility to put an end to the system of racism, instead of leaving it up to individuals to sue after experiencing racism. Yet, there are still gaps in the laws and policies declaring racism as a public health crisis.

Read the full report here.

Focus

Equity & Policy

Project Members

  • Ruqaiijah Yearby Professor of Law and Executive Director, Institute for Healing Justice and Equity, Saint Louis University 
  • Keon L. Gilbert Associate Professor of Behavioral Science and Health Education and Co-Director, Institute for Healing Justice and Equity, Saint Louis University
  • Crystal N. Lewis Health Equity and Policy Fellow, Institute for Healing Justice and Equity, Saint Louis University
  • Charysse Gibson, Biostatiscian, Institute for Healing Justice and Equity, Saint Louis University
  • Kira Banks Associate Professor of Psychology and Co-Director, Institute for Healing Justice and Equity, Saint Louis University

*This website will provide bi-monthly updates of the governments (federal, state, and local) that have issued laws and policies declaring racism as a public health crisis.  We only list laws and policies for which we have been able to find the specific legal documents.

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