Findings from U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, A Growing Crisis: Disadvantaged Women and Their Children, May 1983.

By Staff

Vol. 5, No. 5, 1983, p. 19

  • In its 1982 report on health insurance coverage and employment for minorities and women, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights noted that black, Hispanic, and other minority women were disproportionately without any type of insurance coverage in case of illness. The report found that because of continuing discrimination in employment, many minorities and women are not found in those groups normally insured by private insurance companies. Noting that the insurance industry is not adequately equipped to meet the needs of these minorities and women, the report endorsed passage of national health insurance legislation.
  • Minority women and children have extraordinarily high rates of morbidity and mortality. For example, in 1979 black women had a maternal mortality rate about four times that of white women and their children were twice as likely to die as white infants. The substantial differences in maternal mortality and infant mortality between groups and differences in utilization of services suggest that significant barriers to good health exist that are not related to differences in need.
  • Disadvantaged women, particularly minority women, suffer from a variety of health problems associated with poverty and, in some instances, their race or ethnicity. Disadvantaged black women have higher rates of breast and cervical cancer than other groups. Among Hispanic women, who make up a large proportion of the migrant worker population, health problems are compounded by exposure to potentially harmful pesticides, debilitating living environments, and little or no access to health care. Poor, rural, white women have health care problems compounded by the extreme deprivations of poverty, poor-sanitation and malnutrition.
  • Significant barriers to health care confronting disadvantaged women are (1) lack of a regular primary source of care for routine services; (2) language and cultural differences for Hispanic women; (3) the cost of health care; and (4) inadequate transportation to facilities relocated outside of inner cities.
  • Research documents that the medical establishment tends to diagnose a majority of female complaints as psychosomatic while treating the complaints of male patients more seriously. This has led to a tendency to overprescribe drugs to women more than to men, particularly mood-modifying drugs.
  • Poverty, particularly when linked with single parenthood, poor education, and the presence of young children, is a major cause of emotional stress. Stress can elicit destructive responses, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, depressive violence, and various forms of mental illness. Disadvantaged women living in poverty experience higher lovers of stress than other subgroups.
  • Disadvantaged children have a greater susceptibility to serious health complications than other children. Poor children are also less likely to receive immunizations against dangerous childhood diseases or have routine checkups than are their peers.

For many black, white, and Hispanic women. poverty means inadequate and infrequent use of medical services, reduced employment opportunities, and increased household responsibilities. Children, when their mothers live in poverty, run an increased risk of birth defects and malnutrition and subsist in an environment that could interfere with education and future employability.

As more and more women and children enter the ranks of the impoverished, the implications for the future of our society become overwhelming. To ignore these implications is unconscionable negligence. The bodies, minds, and spirits of millions of women and children are being inevitably and ineluctably affected by the dispiriting hand of poverty.