February 26, 2014
(Jordan Medina is health policy fellow at the Greenlining Institute, where he co-authored the report Pathways Out of Poverty: Boys and Men of Color and Jobs in the Health Sector.)
The United States faces a crisis. We have a staggering racial wealth gap — for every $1 a white family has in assets, the median Latino family has about 7 cents, while the median black family has less than 6 cents. One reason for that gap is that too many boys and men of color are uneducated, disengaged, and unemployed.
This isn't a new problem, but changing racial demographics mean that politicians and business leaders must start paying attention to boys and men of color if America is to remain economically competitive in the twenty-first century. Fortunately, as with every problem, there's a solution. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) presents stakeholders with an incredible opportunity to create a culturally competent health workforce while simultaneously lowering the unemployment rate for boys and men of color. The question is: Do we have the courage and political will to see it through?
The ACA expands healthcare coverage to millions of Americans, mainly those too cash-poor to afford it on their own and those suffering from pre-existing conditions. People of color are disproportionately represented in both groups, while the influx of newly eligible consumers puts pressure on the healthcare and health services industry to expand its workforce to meet the increased demand for care. Given the high levels of unemployment in communities of color, considerable time and money should be spent figuring out ways to better prepare boys and men of color for jobs in the health sector.
This may sound like a difficult task, but a lot of the groundwork already has been laid. A new report I co-authored for the Greenlining Institute highlights some of the ways in which California, the nation's most populous state and long an incubator of public policy experiments, is forging ahead with plans to better integrate boys and men of color into the health workforce.