By Susan Tebben
Ohio Capital Journal
Racial disparities are keeping the state of Ohio from bringing in billions into the economy, a new study shows.
The Health Policy Institute studied disparities experienced by Black and Hispanic/Latino Ohioans, and how improvements to their health and “economic vitality” could improve the state in those categories as well.
“Beyond the substantial impacts on people and communities of color across Ohio, disparities in outcomes, such as life expectancy and overall health status, represent missed economic opportunities for Ohio businesses, governments and communities,” the HPIO study, conducted in partnership with research firm Altarum, said.
The amount the HPIO says Ohio could gain in annual economic output by 2050 with the elimination of disparities is $79 billion, the equivalent of about 43% of the total two-year state budget just passed by Ohio’s legislature last month.
Along with the economic output, the study shows removing barriers to health and employment, among other systemic issues, could bring $40 billion in total income, $30 billion in consumer spending, $4 billion in state and local tax revenues, $3 billion less health care spending, $2 billion more employee productivity and an $821 million drop in corrections spending.
“By eliminating racial disparities, leaders in Ohio can grow the workforce, increase consumer spending, strengthen communities and reduce fiscal pressures on state and local budgets,” researchers found.
The elimination of racial disparities would be an economic driver in part because population growth is being driven by communities of color, according to the HPIO. The U.S. Census Bureau showed Ohio’s population increase of 2.3% from 2010 to 2020 was all due to Ohioans of color.
“As our state’s population of consumers, workers and investors evolves to include more people of color, the benefits of eliminating racial disparities will become even more significant,” the HPIO concluded.
The analysis looked at several “modifiable factors” influencing health and attributing to the environment in which Ohioans live. Half of the factors that influence health are social, economic and physical environments. Health behaviors, like physical activity and smoking rates, represent 30% of that influence and clinical care amounts to the other 20%.
Facing “centuries of policies and practices that limit the opportunity to live a long and healthy life” create obvious stress in the lives of people of color, the study found, which is why attacking structural racism is key to breaking into the economic output being lost in Ohio.
Racism, poverty, adverse childhood experiences and inequitable access to “social drivers of health” all make up the “toxic stressors” that can lead to biological changes, like high stress hormones and harm to immune systems, and eventually health disparities like heart disease, maternal and infant mortality, along with depression.
Ohio still struggles with persistent maternal and infant mortality rates, and previous studies showed depression was a significant factor in a reduced workforce and mortality trends in working-age adults.
“Access to safe and affordable housing, healthy food, quality education, livable income, safety, desegregated neighborhoods and reduced incarceration are all linked to better maternal and child health outcomes, such as lower infant mortality rates,” the HPIO stated in its study.
The study’s recommendations included “policies and programs that promote justice and fairness,” some of which have been seen through the Meigs County Health Department’s Health Equity Policy, Virginia’s inclusion of racial and ethnic impact statement examining criminal justice legislation’s impact on disparities, and Illinois’ Health Care and Human Services Reform Act, expanding low-income and rural health care.