More than two years have passed since the protests and unrest inspired by the murder of George Floyd. The movement drew attention to persistent racial differences that impact health care outcomes, wealth building, and educational opportunities for Americans of color.
Black women are more likely to die during childbirth than white women. Black students face disproportionate suspensions than white students. Most non-white groups have lower family wealth than whites. The list continues.
While it’s long-winded to say that there has been a “racial reckoning” since 2020, many business leaders and policymakers are taking racial inequality more seriously than before. And they’re working harder than ever to address it. This is what is happening in three major industries.
Nowhere is racial inequality more apparent — or more consistent — than in health care. The consequences of medical neglect in communities of color include higher maternal and infant mortality, lower heart attack survival rates, and poorer outcomes for cancer patients of color.
This has real consequences. A recent research found that black and Latinx cancer patients were six times more likely than white patients to wait more than four weeks for immunotherapy treatment. That is an unacceptably long delay that can significantly affect disease progression and increase the risk of death.
To their credit, health systems and patient advocacy organizations recognize the need for equal access to life-saving care. For example, Navigating Cancer looks for related social determinants of health and provides additional support to patients with disabilities in care.
“We are trying to address this by screening patients for the other aspects of their lives that may affect their ability to receive immunotherapy, such as financial toxicity, mental health screening and transportation problems,” says dr. Amila PatelPharmD, BCOP, chief clinical and strategy officer, Navigating Cancer.
Artificial intelligence solutions can also help reduce racial inequalities in healthcare. Conscious or unconscious supplier bias affects results across the industry; to the extent that AI removes the human element from the decision-making process, care delivery is likely to be fairer. AI-driven X-ray analysis seems better when diagnosing color patients than, for example, ‘human-first’ analysis.
Housing is another industry with rampant racial inequalities. These differences are not always obvious and can be difficult to prove, but they show up in nationwide data.
An extensive study by the National Bureau of Economic Research notes that discrimination in both rental and owner-occupied housing is rife, with blacks and Hispanics being the victims. For example, property managers answered questions from white potential tenants 60% of the time, compared with 54.4% for black tenants and 57.2% for Latinx tenants.
Unlike healthcare, efforts to address housing disparities are primarily driven by professional associations, non-profit organizations and government agencies. The National Fair Housing Association (NHFA), for example, has programs to address redlining (geographical discrimination), racial bias in the appraisal process, and individual companies that engage in discrimination. They work closely with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, whose Fair Housing Department ultimately holds people and businesses accountable for discriminatory real estate practices.
3. Consumer Finance
Racial disparities have existed in consumer and small business financing for generations. These differences often overlap with those in other sectors, such as housing.
For example, while traditional redlining (complete exclusion of non-whites from certain neighborhoods) is now illegal, credit-based redlining (discriminatory lending practices that disproportionately affects homebuyers of color) remains common.
A major cause of racial disparities in consumer finance is the racial bias inherent in traditional insurance models. While progress has been slow, some lenders are now providing tools for loan applicants to increase their chances of qualifying for mortgages and other types of loans.
Access to traditional banking services also remains a problem. Banks are less likely to open branches in communities with a high non-white population, forcing residents to turn to predatory financial services firms such as check-cash shops and moneylenders. App-based ‘neo-banks’ turn the tide and Reduce the ranks of the underbanked, but progress remains slower than necessary.
There is more work to be done
The United States is becoming more and more multicultural, but it is not yet a post-racial society. Not even close.
Much more needs to be done to address the persisting racial inequalities in key sectors such as health care, consumer finance and housing. This also applies to education, transport, retail, logistics and childcare.
The coronavirus pandemic strongly reminded us that the disproportionately non-white workforce of these industries remains vulnerable. An analysis by the Institute of Economic Policy found that black workers were much more likely to work in “frontline” positions within these industries, and thus had a higher risk of Covid-19 infection.
The pandemic may be abating, but the racial inequalities it exposed are not. For the well-being of their employees, their customers and their stakeholders, business leaders must work to restore them.