The Long-Term Effects of Redlining on Public Health in Black Neighborhoods

A new study by public health researchers at the University of Maryland shows that people in areas long ago labeled as “red” (hazardous) or “yellow” (definitely declining) on infamous government housing maps in the 1930s, today have about a five-year shorter life expectancy than those living in areas that had been categorized as favorable for home mortgage lending.

Baltimore was at the forefront of the racially discriminatory calculus known as “redlining,” a range of government-sponsored real estate practices that kept the city divided between Black and White, impeded Black wealth accumulation, and helped create underserved neighborhoods that continue to suffer from stark disparities to this day.

“The shape of Baltimore’s health today is reflected in the shape of redlining,” said Shuo Jim Huang, a doctoral candidate in the department of health policy and management in the School of Public Health and the lead author of the paper. “It is not random. These areas of lower life expectancy don’t appear in a grid as if someone has thrown darts at a map, it is an overall pattern that matches the pattern of redlining.”

In addition to a clear and stark reduction in life expectancy in the red and yellow zones, they also found that these areas had higher teen birth rates, reduced rates of prenatal care, and significantly more liquor stores.

In advice to legislators and policymakers, Huang wants that “the policies you make today might have really, really long tails. These are things that won’t just impact people for the next one to five years, these are things that could potentially impact people for the next century or even more. You need to not only listen to the voices of the impacted communities but to create racial equity plans to inform solutions.”

The full study, “Association of Historic Redlining and Present-Day Health in Baltimore,” was published in PLOS ONE. It may be accessed here.

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