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Racial health disparities report underscores immediate need for civil rights intervention

December 18, 2009

Rev. Jesse Jackson calls on Washington to address broad structural problems

CHICAGO (December 18, 2009)--Today’s screaming headline broadcasting health disparities black Chicagoans face underscores what powerful forces in America know but are unwilling to address: From housing to hunger, employment, and prison, these gaps are all too real, said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

“To the extent that poverty is a class issue, the black caste is at the bottom,” Jackson said. “Forty nine million Americans are food insecure and the number is growing. Neglect of blacks and indifference to the pain, poverty and death are real. How long and in what forum must we cry out. Is anybody listening?”

That 3,200 black Chicagoans die annually from a lack of access to health care is a harbinger of the true state of African-American social and economic health across all sectors, Jackson said in response to a Chicago Sun-Times report on the Sinai Health Institute’s study of racial gaps in health care.

America can no longer comfort itself with the false premise that blacks and other minorities are somehow responsible for their own fate. While diet and exercise play a role in health disparities, stress, racism, poverty, and joblessness are also culprits in causing the disparities.

Iraq and Afghanistan pale by comparison to the number of deaths caused by poverty and neglect. We need from the White House and Congress the same kind attention and commitment that we give to nation-building. The evidence shows that Chicago and Detroit are ground zero, but that substantial pockets of pain exist all around our country. We urge the President to use the bully pulpit of his office to shine the heat and light of the White House on these deep dark dungeons of poverty and discrimination.

To finally eradicate the disparities will require changing habits of consumption and behavior, but it also requires vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws. Lack of enforcement contributes to African Americans suffering disproportionately the brunt of the economic crisis.

When Bob Jones University refused to comply with EEOC laws, the federal government withdrew federal funding. The same high standard must be applied to enforcement of Title VI today. Employers and educators who refuse to include blacks and other under-served populations must be excluded from participating in federal programs for economic stimulus, jobs, housing, construction and nutrition.

“Disparities are driven by racial discrimination because enforcement of these laws have all but been abandoned,” said Jackson, calling on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to intervene.

For example, Jackson said, Holder should intensify efforts to enforce fair lending laws. African-Americans have been disproportionately affected by the home foreclosure crisis, when ample studies show many were steered to subprime loans when they qualified for prime rate loans.

The study found that black Chicagoans fell further behind in 11 of 15 areas reviewed by the institute between 1990 and 2005, including infant mortality, heart-disease deaths and diabetes. The reason: Whites’ ability to access health care advances and "racism and poverty," researchers said.

“This crisis deserves a White House conference. We vote in record numbers,” Jackson said. “We serve in the military. We’re playing on athletic fields. We sing. We dance. We entertain. Yet, there’s a painful indifference to the reduced life options of African-Americans. We’re number one in infant mortality. We have lower life expectancy. There’s an obvious health gap, but more than that, a broad range of structural gaps that must be addressed.”

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a progressive organization protecting, defending and expanding civil rights to improve economic and educational opportunity. The organization is headquartered at 930 E. 50th St. in Chicago. For more information about the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, please visit the organization’s website, www.rainbowpush.org, or telephone (773) 373-3366.

Chicago Sun Times

Health gap kills 3,200 black Chicagons every year