February is Black History Month and though progress on achieving meaningful racial equity is slow, there is still a lot to celebrate even as we chart a course toward more improvements.
In the last year, we’ve seen an increasing number of Black leaders in both parties in elected office as well as high leadership roles. In 2022, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first African American woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. In Congress, Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies is the first Black lawmaker to lead a major party. And he’s not alone – according to recent information “about 13% of lawmakers in the current House are Black, which is roughly on par with the overall share of Black Americans.”
Thanks to the Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress who passed historic bills like the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the Inflation Reduction Act, we have seen the most equitable economic recovery on record following the COVID pandemic, the worst public health crisis in recent times. These policies have led to the creation of nearly 10 million jobs and made long overdue investments in Black communities, in improving access to health care and in improving the social determinants of health that influence health outcomes. Black workers saw some of the largest wage increases in 2022, nearly 2% higher than the national average for low-wage workers and President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan will finally start to narrow the racial wealth gap that continues to persist after decades.
These achievements bring us all forward as a nation and that’s why we must make sure these policies stay intact, that progress is not rolled back, and that leaders who profess commitment to racial equity follow through on continued progress. But it won’t be easy when it comes to some issues that disproportionately impact Black people.
Attacks on abortion rights and access, for example, disproportionately impact Black women, who are more likely to seek abortion than their White counterparts and more likely to lack coverage to cover birth control, abortion, maternity care, and pediatric needs. Denying people access to abortion or forcing them to delay access has devastating health and economic consequences for the whole family. Mothers in states with abortion bans are nearly 3 times more likely to die, and Black women are 2.6 times more likely than their White counterparts.
Millions of people over the last decade have been able to get health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which will turn 13 years old in March of 2023. Black and Brown Americans have been the biggest beneficiaries of the law, particularly the Medicaid expansion provisions. Today, just 8.0% of the U.S. population is uninsured, the lowest national rate in history. For Black Americans, the rate of uninsured individuals declined with the ACA from 20.0% to 11.0%. But in some states with high populations of Black residents like Texas and Florida, progress has stalled on healthcare access for Black uninsured people. In the 11 states that continue to refuse to implement Medicaid expansion, “uninsured Black adults are more likely than their White counterparts to fall into the gap, with a 15.0% uninsured rate in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid and an 8.0% uninsured rate for states that have expanded Medicaid.”
No matter where you live or what you look like, everyone in the United States should have guaranteed access to affordable coverage they can depend on–we can’t stop until the ACA is fully implemented and everyone gets access to health care.
That fight is more important now than ever as the President has announced the end of the Public Health Emergency (PHE) order that has enabled more people to access Medicaid than ever before. The PHE is scheduled to end May 11, 2023 and it is estimated 8.0 million people will lose Medicaid coverage in the following 14 months, including 2.2 million Black Americans.
Now is the time to reinvigorate our commitment to racial equity in our economy, in our civic society, and in key systems–healthcare, education, voting rights, and many others that will fall under attack under new GOP leadership in Congress. After all, Black history isn’t something we consider just one month out of the year. Rather, Black history is what we consider all the time as we push for policy change that dismantles the negative legacies of our past so that we can all work toward a better future.