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While the recent police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott has led to increased scrutiny on police activities in North Carolina, police-community relations are not the only reason racial tensions are flaring. While encounters with police officers can radically differ depending on the race of those involved, access to economic resources tend to follow a similar pattern. Although racial gaps regarding wealth, incomes, and healthcare are nationwide issues, observing them from a statewide perspective can help understand why specific communities feel maltreated.
A UNC Chapel Hill study found that the income and wealth disparities between African Americans and whites in North Carolina are far worse than the national average. It states that:
…black households, at the median, claim only about 13 percent of the wealth and, stunningly, about 4 percent of the net worth of white households. The corresponding figures for the nation are bleak: 15 and 13 percent respectively. Median wealth for white households is roughly seven times that of black households…Nationally, black households have about half the home equity of whites. In North Carolina, it’s about a third.
The study goes on to state that half of all black households in North Carolina have under $100 in savings. At the median, black heads of household aged between 50 and 65 own $17,000 in assets compared to white households’ median of $143,000, which seriously hampers older, black workers from retiring comfortably. This data paints a picture of a state that fails to allow black communities from advancing economically and obtaining some semblance of equality.
The issue is further exasperated by lack of access to health insurance. A North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services study found that 13% of North Carolina whites have no health insurance as compared to 22% of blacks. 16% of whites were reported to be in “fair or poor” health as compared to 23.2% of blacks. The Kaiser Family Foundation research shows that the majority of non-elderly uninsured North Carolinians were minorities: 30% Hispanic and 14% black, while 10% were white. This is especially concerning considering minorities experience disease at a higher rate than American whites, and visit the doctor at much lower rates. The result: communities most in need of medical assistance are least likely to attain it.
This imbalance is in part due to the state government’s failure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, something which would have significantly reduced the coverage gap between those receiving Medicaid and those obtaining income-based subsidies. The North Carolina Justice Center finds that, had the expansion gone through, 500,000 low-income North Carolinians would have health insurance who currently don’t have it, and over 1,000 unnecessary deaths would have been prevented.
While the protests in Charlotte appeared to be a backlash against apparent police brutality, underlying economic factors also come into play. A breaking point will eventually be reached by those living in undesirable economic situations which they view as consequential of a racist and unfair system.
The case of North Carolina is a particularly negative one, but the principles outlined in this research are not unique to North Carolina. Americans cannot expect race relations to cool until access to income, wealth, and healthcare are equalized and structured in a fair, equitable manner.