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African American Wealth and Health Gaps, Education Dysfunctions, and Now Major COVID-19 Death Disparities!!!

Image for Covid 19

April 8, 2020

The headline for the information that was sent out to African American newspapers by the NNPA Black Press Association about the COVID-19 impact said — State of Emergency Declared for Black America.

That very important early warning from the press association looked at early COVID-19 deaths. They reported that the percentages of African Americans currently being killed by that virus were extremely high and that the death percentages are actually painfully disproportionate for Black Americans as a percentage of the population.

They told us that Milwaukee is currently 26 percent Black, and they reported that African Americans have been 81 percent of the COVID deaths there.

They also said that Michigan has 14 percent of their total population Black, and African Americans have been 40 percent of the COVID deaths there.

New Orleans is 32 percent Black, and African Americans are more than 70 percent of the COVID deaths.

Why is that true?

We did not understand those numbers when we first heard them.

We did know that the sad truth is that there have long been a number of other health related disparities for our African American population that we thought might be relevant to the COVID deaths. We have serious levels of health care disparities as a country that have been sadly true for a long time.

So the initial supposition was that some combination of increased comorbidities, higher ranges of diabetes, higher levels of heart disease, and higher levels for other chronic diseases for African American patients might actually be driving those numbers because those patients with those conditions might somehow be at higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

That supposition and that suspicion about the impact of other health conditions being very relevant has now turned out to be entirely true.

Great research that was just done in New Orleans showed us that those pre-COVID co morbidity factors were responsible for the higher rates of death— and that research showed that being African American, all by itself, was not relevant to those higher mortality numbers.

Even though being African American was not a direct medical cause of the higher death rate, it is clearly very true that the higher co morbidity rates and higher chronic disease levels for African American patients did make that death rate higher. We have major differences and disparities for some levels of health status that have been linked to racial issues for a number of years. That finding about the impact of those disparities on COVID deaths gives us reason to think about the impact that racism, racial disparities in work and health care settings, and in our personal economic realities all work as a package to make that death rate higher.

Personal income levels for each group of people have significant differences by group in ways that are directly relevant to that situation.

One of the factors that is creating some of the higher infection rates, very clearly, is that for lower income people, the option of staying at home instead of going to work for the duration of the disease is much more difficult. It is much harder to stay home when you simply cannot afford to stay home.

Wealth matters.

One of the race related disparities we know is that the relative wealth levels of Black families are significantly lower for our entire country compared to the wealth levels of White families.

The financial disparities that we see today in our country are clear and painful and are highly relevant to this situation.

Two years ago, the average White family in America had a net worth of $161,000. By comparison, the average net worth of Hispanic families was $20,700 and the average net worth of African American families was $17,000.

Those massive disparities between income levels and wealth levels by group is relevant to the COVID death rates because staying at home for safe social distancing is obviously much more difficult when there is very little money available to make that distancing behavior affordable or possible.

We have major differences by race the ethnicity in the resources available to families from every group.

In addition to the health care disparities and economic disparities, we have learning disparities in our schools that are also part of the disparity package. Our schools are part of that disparity fabric and reality, and multiple studies have shown that there are major differences in both health status and economic status that spill over from the learning issues.

We have major learning gaps in our schools that need to be understood as part of the disparities that we need to correct in our society.

Our schools are failing to produce students from all groups who can both read and do calculations at grade levels when they leave school. The learning gaps between groups of students in our schools widened again this year and less than half of the people graduating from our schools for the entire country can now read at grade level. Most people do not know that there are actually direct health consequences that result from those learning level differences.

We do know that the children who drop out of school are twice as likely to become diabetic, three times more likely to have asthma, and more than six times more likely to go to prison than the people who graduate. We know that one of the very best ways of improving population health is actually to increase academic achievement for the people who are not doing well in those areas of their lives.

We definitely now know that the learning gaps that exist for millions of children in the very first years of life channel people into those health outcomes and challenges in very unfortunate ways.

We should correct that situation.

We now understand some key processes—and we should use that information to help every child. Those learning gaps should not be happening in our schools. We should end those gaps and end them as quickly as we can, by doing the right things for our children in the first months and years of life for each child.

The new science is extremely powerful and extremely useful on those issues.

We now know what needs to be done to have those learning gaps disappear in our schools. We need to fix those learning gaps by giving children from every group the brain exercise needed by each child in the first months and years of life when learning readiness happens for every child.

The science and the biology and the time frames are the same for children from every group.

Neurons matter.

Neurons connect by billions in the brains of our children in the first months and years of life when children have direct interactions in the first months and first years of life.

We need neurons to connect for every child.

To do that, we need to create interactions for each child that trigger and activate and support the neuron connectivity process for each child.

It is an extremely individual process. It happens for each child.

Interactions with each child in the right time frames create neuron connections in ways that can have a huge benefit for every child from every group and those benefits last for life.

We all need to understand that fact and we also need to all understand the grim and extremely important reality that the connectivity process actually changes significantly for each child by age four.

Almost no one understands that particular reality about the ending of that opportunity for each child. Many people who are told that reality about those changes and those time frames absolutely hate it and large numbers of people who hear it have an extremely hard time believing that it might be true.

But it is true. Neuron connection processes do not stay the same for the entire lives of each child. The very first months and very first years are the times of extremely high potential for children from all groups. Children can make billions and even trillions of neuron connections in those first three years, and they tend to absolutely love the interactions they have with adults to make those connections happen.

Children from all groups blossom and thrive and deeply benefit from those interactions.

But —

That process changes in purely biological ways for every child at age four.

At age four, the biology of the brain goes through a time of change. The brain of each child actually purges itself of unused neurons at age four, and building millions and billions of neuron connections after age four is much more difficult.

We should never give up on any child. We need to do even more to help the children who have fallen behind and who do not have those billions and trillions of connected neurons, because those children need our help even more at multiple levels if they have fallen behind in those first three years.

We need to give every child the best possible education and support throughout all of their childhood years—and we should put programs in place to help and support the ongoing progress levels for every child.

We still need to provide great education processes and great support for all children after that age.

But we all need today to be very honest with ourselves and with each other about the fact that closing the learning gaps is much harder after age four when the brains of each child become less open to the stimulus and to the neuron connection opportunities that begin in the first month of life for each child.

We need to make a commitment to help every child—and we all need to know that the process of optimal improvement and brain strengthening for each child actually begins slightly before birth.

Neuron connections begin in the first weeks and first months of life for every child — and those connections can create great levels of learning readiness in our children when we take advantage of that opportunity in that time frame.

We know the tool kit that we should be using. We know the things we can and absolutely should do to help every child.

It’s not a complex process.

Talk, Read, Sing is the First Five Commission mantra that runs in the ads and education materials for parents because brains grow and make billions of connections when adults talk, read, sing, and interact with each child in the first weeks, months, and years of life.

We are extremely fortunate that both talking and reading to children make those connections happen with great ease and with very high impact.

Reading has almost magical impact on many children.

Children who are read to have much higher literacy levels and far more neuron connections than they would have without those books. We know from both experience and research that the security levels for the child and the parental satisfaction scores for some mother increase at very positive levels when books are available to the family and child and when reading is a regular part of each child’s day.

We know from the new research that reading to 1-year-old children causes those neurons to connect by the billions in each child. We also now know that more than half of the low-income homes in America do not have a single book.

That book disparity level is a huge and highly unacceptable inequity for those homes.

Massive disparities and huge inequities exist today relative to the number of books available for each set of children that should not exist when we understand how much value books add to the learning processes for our families and children.

We know that middle- and upper-income homes now average a dozen or more books per child.

We know that children from the homes with no books hear fewer than 5,000 spoken words, on average, before age five. We know that the children in homes that read at least once a day hear more than 200,000 spoken words before age five. The differences in neuron connections that happen with 5,000 spoken words instead of 200,000 words makes a huge difference in the life of each child.

It is extremely important for us all to know that both talking and reading in those first months and first years create neuron connections by the billions in each child, and we all need to recognize the sad reality that the children who do not have those connections do not do well in school.

The newly expanding brain scienceexplains clearly to us why that difference in the number of spoken words creates such huge disparities in the learning readiness levels for all of our children.

We owe our children the benefit of finally understanding that science and those processes and then using that information to give our children much better lives by doing the right things for every child in the first weeks, months and years of life.

This challenge and opportunity relate to the other disparities in both health and wealth that exist between groups. We have created massive economic disparities as a country. We owe our children a chance to make those disparities disappear.

We need to make whatever investments are needed to get books to all of our children in the first months and years of life, in order to soften some of those inequities. More than half of our births this year in our country will be to Medicaid homes, and that fact gives us excellent links to those homes that we need to use to help children.

Our WIC programs tied to Medicaid can easily be used to distribute books to low income families, as part of our commitment to all of our children. Pilot WIC projects have gotten the learning readiness levels for children in those homes up from under 20 percent to over 70 percent in one school by having both books and coaching about reading available to those very young children who go to those WIC sites.

We need that kind of program available for low income children everywhere in America because the impact is so positive for the children who have those books and have those interactions with adults in their settings.

The shocking COVID-19 death rate disparities point us very directly to the need to solve a number of major societal problems. One of the most effective ways of doing that over time and addressing key problems at multiple levels is to have healthier and more learning ready children in our schools.

Most people do not recognize the linkage between those sets of issues, but multiple studies have shown us that the children who drop out of high school have much higher rates of diabetes, asthma, depression, chemical abuse, and other chronic conditions than the children who graduate. That information is usually overlooked when people think about what we can do to change those major disparity areas. However, it is very directly linear and linked.

We know that the neuron connections that exist at age four are the best predictor who is going to drop out of school and go down that path to negative health issues. That pattern of lower levels of good health ties directly to the fact that we now know that co morbidities trigger higher COVID-19 deaths.

Racism is part of that package.

We have a long history of racist behavior as a country. Our history is grim. We enslaved African Americans and we performed levels of extreme prejudice against out Native American population.

Our country put Jim Crow laws and other forms of extremely intentional negative realities in place for African Americans and also very intentionally set up various levels of prejudice against every other group who was not perceived to be part of the White.

We are on a path to making major progress in those areas at this point in our history. We have discriminated against women at multiple levels for our entire existence as a nation, and we have just now begun to make some real progress in that area that should change us forever if we stay on the tracks we are on now relative to gender issues.

The Me-Too movement has changed our expectations about acceptable gender related behavior in multiple very important ways. That is good underpinning for our new strong awareness of the damage still being done by racism in ways that have the opportunity to move us in much more enlightened values and behaviors on those issues.

We need to put in place cultural and behavioral expectations about racist behaviors and beliefs that put us on a far better path for inter-racial realities in our country.

COVID is relevant to those pathways.

We need better science about the COVID-19 disparities at every level, and we also need to make the commitment to building the right start for every child from every group because we owe that support to pay in part for all of the very clear and major racism inflicted damages of the past.

We clearly need better resources going to our children to help with some of the learning disparities in our schools and, ultimately, the wealth and income disparities in our country.

This is a good time for us to get some important things right.

We need a Peace Movement for America that incorporates our commitment to help every child from every group and that makes sure our gender related behaviors and values are creating the best future as a country relative to those issues as well.

We need to rise to a higher level as a country—and we need to do that by accepting our shared values and by creating levels of far more enlightened interactions as the direction we all need to go.

We have seen how much we have to lose if we don’t get this right.

Let’s learn from that experience and let’s rise above that experience and let’s get it right now.


Be Well.