Quick look: With the right knowledge and inclusive employee benefits options, brokers can help address the racial health and wealth disparities affecting today’s Black employees and their families. Here, we explore inequalities facing Black Americans and how partnering with a PEO can enable brokers and their clients to level the playing field for marginalized workers.
February is Black History Month, a time dedicated to acknowledging African Americans’ accomplishments, culture, history, and experiences. The theme for Black History Month in 2024 is “African Americans and the Arts” and highlights Black Americans’ impact on visual arts, music, cultural movements, and more.
Black History Month offers brokers an opportunity to review how to further help clients support their Black employees. Unfortunately, racial inequalities exist in the healthcare system and in the possession of wealth in the U.S. However, brokers can help close these gaps by aligning employers with the right benefits to improve the lives of historically marginalized staff.
An unequal healthcare experience
Before exploring how brokers can help clients advocate for Black employees, it’s crucial to address the racial bias and inequalities in the healthcare system today.
The Urban Institute reported that over 10% of Black people faced discrimination by a doctor or other healthcare provider based on race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or health condition. This number is in contrast to just 3.6% of white and 4.5% of Hispanic people.
According to Pew Research, 55% of Black Americans have had at least one of several negative healthcare experiences, like being treated with less respect than other patients and having to speak up to receive appropriate care.
In addition to facing discrimination in medical settings, research has shown that Black patients (including children) are misdiagnosed more frequently than white patients, especially for mental illnesses. Similarly, despite Black people being 20% more likely to experience mental health issues, only one-quarter of them will receive care (compared to 40% of white people).
The reason behind misdiagnosis is multifaceted. It can include implicit biases affecting how physicians interact with their Black patients. Stigma can also be involved—Black people may not be comfortable seeking care if they do not feel their provider will understand their background or be able to relate to them.
Another cause of the frequent misdiagnoses is rooted in the diagnosis of ailments. For example, the algorithm for assessing lung health refers to centuries-old information suggesting Black people have a lower lung capacity than white people. This has led to Black patients being undiagnosed and underdiagnosed with respiratory complications.
A similar situation exists with kidney health clinical algorithms, which assume that Black people have higher creatinine levels than white people despite having similar kidney performance. This flawed “race correction” has been occurring for over 20 years and routinely assigns Black patients with higher kidney function, causing many to receive care too late and be disproportionately affected by advanced stages of kidney disease.
Black patients also face more medical financial burdens than other races. Research reveals that one in three Black adults has past-due medical bills (compared to fewer than one in four white adults). Further, nearly 28% of Black households carry medical debt, in comparison to just 17.2% of white, non-Hispanic households.
This financial liability can cause individuals and families to skip medical care, affecting their current and future health.
Poorer pandemic outcomes
Another recent trend highlighting the medical inequalities Black people face is related to COVID-19. Unfortunately, Black Americans had the highest mortality rate during the pandemic and died at a 1.4x higher rate than white Americans during the first half of the outbreak.
The wealth gap
Black Americans face wealth disparities in addition to medical ones, including pay inequalities, having fewer retirement savings and assets, and being disproportionately affected by job loss.
According to the New York Times, the average Black worker makes 21% less than the average white worker. Black women specifically face an even more significant gap, earning just 70% as much as White men.
While the wage gap between the two has shrunk since the early 2000s, much room exists for improvement.
Retirement savings and assets
The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that Black employees between the ages of 51 and 64 are the least likely to have a retirement account. Further, when they do have accounts, their median balances are substantially lower than their similarly aged white counterparts across all income levels. For example, white workers in the lowest income band had a medical retirement account value of $57,101, versus $12,819 for Black workers.
Another factor affecting Black Americans’ retirement income is Social Security benefits. Because this income is calculated using factors like lifetime earnings, Black retirees often receive less than their white peers. This can negatively impact them, considering that Social Security is the only source of income for one-third of Black Americans (compared to just 18% of white people in the U.S.).
In addition to funds in retirement savings accounts and Social Security income, homes can be one of the most valuable assets for someone to have in their golden years. Unfortunately, U.S. Census Bureau data shows that the gap between Black and White homeownership rates was wider in 2022 than in 1960.
Layoffs impact thousands of workers nationwide, and unfortunately, Black Americans tend to be hit significantly harder than most. For example, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that between April and July 2023, 90% of newly unemployed adults were Black.
The right partnership can uplift your clients’ staff
With the support of their benefits brokers, small- and medium-sized business (SMB) leaders can significantly improve their Black employees’ careers, finances, and health. Employers and brokers should be aware of the current racial disparities and how the right benefits packages can better support Black workers and their families.
A professional employer organization (PEO), like ExtensisHR, can equip brokers with the plans and services they need to help companies create inclusive cultures, including:
- Health insurance plans with diverse in-network physicians and coverage for telehealth sessions, preventive care, mental health support, and more
- The option for medical plans to include health savings accounts (HSAs) that can pay for medical expenses and function as a long-term investment tool
- 401(k) retirement and 529 education savings accounts, as well as financial training on investing, budgeting, and more
- Access to an intuitive DEI Dashboard that allows clients to view real-time information on pay equity, salary trends, employee turnover, promotions, and more across race and gender demographics
Together, brokers, employers, and PEOs can create work environments and benefits packages that respect and empower workers with diverse backgrounds.
Contact the experts at ExtensisHR today to explore how we can help you craft a robust and inclusive employee benefits portfolio to help level the playing field for Black Americans.