Wisconsin can’t move forward with Scott Walker
A newly released study published in the Journal Health Affairs, using data from death certificates collected by the National Center for Health Statistics, shows the disparity in life expectancy between blacks and whites is improving everywhere but Wisconsin.
The new report shows the gap between black and white life expectancy has closed in recent years, but Wisconsin is the only state in which the life expectancy gap has grown significantly in the last two decades.
In 1990, white men had a life expectancy 8.1 years longer than black men, and white women were expected to live 5.4 years longer than black women.
Twenty years later, the gap shrunk to a 5.4 year difference between black and white men and a 3.8 year difference between black and white women.
The data shows that overall life expectancy for individuals is up, but the study focuses on a more nuanced version of that story.
A state by state breakdown reveals a major difference in reducing the life expectancy gap.
New York, for example, with a population of over 19 million, outperformed other states by closing the gap by 5.6 years for men and 3.1 years for women.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin was the only state with a significant increase in disparity of life expectancy – that meant the disparity in the life expectancies of whites and black actually worsened over time.
In twenty years, the life expectancy gap for men in Wisconsin rose from 7.7 years to 7.9 years.
For women in Wisconsin, the gap increased significantly from 4.9 years to 6.4 years.
Not only did the disparity skyrocket between black and white women, black women’s life expectancy in Wisconsin barely improved.
Black women’s life expectancy increased by just 0.4 years while white women’s life expectancy in Wisconsin increased by a full two years.
Geoffrey Swain, medical director at the City of Milwaukee Health Department and professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, commented that the study didn’t surprise him.
Swain pointed to a report released earlier this year by the Annie E. Casey foundation, which pegged Wisconsin as the worst state in the country for childhood opportunities for black children.
Governor Walker and the Republicans who control the state legislature have done little to reverse this alarming trend in recent years.
Since Walker took power in 2011, the Republican agenda has ignored the black community. Instead of policies that improve the quality of life for blacks, they’ve implemented ideas that reduce health options and limit opportunity.
Scott Walker gained national attention by rejecting more than $4 billion in federal funding to expand the state’s Medicaid program to cover all residents living at or below 138% of the federal poverty line.
Instead, Walker forced citizens making as little as $12,000 per year to buy private insurance with copays and deductibles as much as $4,000 per year.
The governor riled up the most extreme, fringe members of his base, but his political grandstanding had significant implications for low-income blacks.
According to the Kaiser Institute for Public Health, as of 2011, 74% of uninsured blacks had incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty line in Wisconsin – and only 16% had health insurance.
Quality of life for those in the black community continues to take a hit due to Scott Walker’s failed policies, and his disastrous health care policy didn’t improve the day to day life of poor people of color.
Access to quality, affordable health care plays a significant role in closing the gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites.
With so many Wisconsinites of all stripes poised to benefit from Medicaid expansion, accepting federal dollars should have been a no-brainer for Walker and Republicans.
The increase in the life expectancy gap between black and white women is telling as Republicans – and Scott Walker more recently – have repeatedly attacked women’s right to safe, reliable health care options.
Scott Walker made it a top priority to cut funding by $1 million for Planned Parenthood, forcing the closure of four health centers, and blocking at least 12,000 Wisconsin women from their only source of preventative and medical care.
With the stroke of a pen, and help from a rubber stamp legislature, Walker denied thousands access to birth control, cancer screenings, annual exams, and sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment.
In addition to direct attacks on public health, Walker has worked to end opportunities for blacks in Wisconsin to become established in the middle class.
In Walker’s first few months as governor, Republicans swiftly ushered in a controversial law gutting public-sector unions in the state.
Unions have long been an established path to job security and family-sustaining wages for blacks. Unions are a historic gateway for millions to move up and get ahead through public-sector jobs as teachers, public safety officers, and other professions.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, black workers are more likely than all other ethnic groups to be public-union members, comprising 15 percent of all membership.
Union membership means workplace protections, the ability to fight for health benefits or a fair wage to afford private health insurance.
Scott Walker’s first-term agenda completely undermines that idea.
The most recent study published in the Journal Health Affairs is the second study this year to paint a picture of what life is like for blacks in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin this year – and it isn’t pretty.
Our government should put a premium on looking out for its most vulnerable citizens.
Walker hasn’t lifted a finger to help improve the lives of marginalized black men and women in Wisconsin – and there is little evidence to show his attitude will change if given a second term.
The November election is important for many reasons, but in the black community it could mean four more years of setbacks and roadblocks on the path to prosperity.
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