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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Premature Deaths of Black Americans Alter Politics, Health Care, Says Michigan Researcher

If a million Black Americans who died prematurely had been alive to vote in the 2004 elections, the outcome in several key races would have been very different, a researcher at the University of Michigan and colleagues found.

[Photo: Dr. Arline Geronimus]

In the end it would not have changed the country’s choice for president, but the additional Black votes in several close U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races would have likely created a different balance of power, says Dr. Arline Geronimus, a research professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research and a professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health.

The irony of their finding, Geronimus says, is that most of the premature deaths can be attributed to chronic health conditions that afflict Blacks more than Whites. A shift of control in leadership toward more Democrats — historically the party of choice for most Blacks — would have meant more support for policies and programs that address the growing problem of health disparities.

In particular, she says, it could have impacted the leadership that, a few years later, determined the fate of Medicaid expansions under the Affordable Care Act. The expansions, passed in 29 states and the District of Columbia but not approved in the other 21 states, provide free or low-cost health services to underserved populations.

“Death is easily quantifiable but is not always attributed to the causes or age-groups that first come to mind,” she said. “Most of the excess Black deaths are due to chronic disease — not homicides, drug or accidental deaths or violence. The vast majority of this voting age population died from cardiovascular disease and other chronic and stress-related diseases.”

Dr. Geronimus and her colleagues say that large and persistent Black-White mortality disparities could be both a cause and a consequence of partisan politics in the United States. On average, the researchers say, Black deaths occur 60 percent more frequently than Whites

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