Groundbreaking Report Finds Serious Illness and Affordability of Health Care a Growing Problem for Working-Class Women of all Races, Ethnicities, and Geographies - Families Usa Skip to Main Content
10.18.2018 / Press Release

Groundbreaking Report Finds Serious Illness and Affordability of Health Care a Growing Problem for Working-Class Women of all Races, Ethnicities, and Geographies

Newly Reported Disparities in Health and Health Care Point to a Massive Failure of U.S. Public Policy Damaging Working-Class Women of All Races and Ethnicities, in both Rural and Urban Areas

Washington, D.C.—Families USA commissioned original research analyzing 20 years of national survey data documenting the prevalence of serious health problems and barriers to health care access. The resulting report, A Case for Solidarity: Common Challenges Involving Health and Health Care in the United States, shows that while health inequities continue to take a major toll on communities of color, working-class women—across lines of race, ethnicity, and geographic location—have experienced serious physical and mental health problems at a high and rapidly rising rate. The disadvantages that face working-class women (those whose education did not go beyond high school) stand out most clearly in contrast to men with a college degree—a comparison that highlights the combined impact of class and gender. For more than a generation, working-class women’s health problems have rapidly grown worse, signaling a major break-down of U.S. public policy. This ground-breaking report is the first study ever published that specifically examines the overall health status of working-class women, across multiple racial and geographic categories.

Among the leading findings:

  • Compared to college-educated men, working-class women are 3.5 times as likely to report 14 or more days of poor health during the month. Nearly 1 in 5 working-class women (19%) experiences poor mental health for at least two weeks out of the month, compared to just 1 in 18 college-educated men (6%).
  • Working-class women are more than three times as likely to go without doctor visits because of cost as are college-educated men. More than 1 in 4 working-class women (28%) are denied care because they cannot afford it, compared to fewer than 1 in 12 (8%) college-educated men.
  • The crisis in working-class women’s health affects families of all ethnicities. For both whites and African-Americans, poor physical health is three times as likely for working-class women as for college-educated men in the same racial group. Among Latinos, serious physical health problems are more than twice as likely for working-class women as for college-educated men.

“These disparities are shocking, and their import is clear,” said Stan Dorn, senior fellow at Families USA and author of the report. “Given the well-documented relationship between poor health and underlying social and economic circumstances, the serious health problems experienced by working-class women of all races and in all geographic areas suggest these women encounter major life challenges that U.S. public policy has failed to address.”

“This report makes it crystal clear that the needs of women should be front and center in our national and state health policy,” said Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA. “These women are working hard every day and are struggling with major illness and affording health care while also being the backbone of their families and our society. We can and must do much better as a nation.”

The report also found that, with certain critical public health problems, the effects of race and ethnicity can overwhelm the role played by class. For example, asthma rates among the children of college-educated African-Americans are more than a third higher than for children of white parents who have a high school education or less.

“People in our nation, from every background and from every geographic area, have much in common when it comes to their health status and access to affordable care. And while the current system is performing poorly for people in many demographic groups, we now know that working-class women experience particularly serious challenges,” said Mr. Dorn.

Mr. Isasi continues; “This report is a clarion call for all of us to strongly reject efforts across the country that divide us. Instead, we should urge our elected officials to focus on policy improvements that address inequities and make our health care system work better for every family, including our moms, spouses, sisters, and daughters.”

These longstanding downward trends reversed direction in 2014 when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect. Serious physical and mental health problems started becoming less common for both working-class families and people of color, and disparities between working-class women and college-educated men began to narrow, in every racial and ethnic group.

“We’ve long known that racism and sexism have a harmful effect on the health care women receive. This report broadens that view and shows that similar issues are faced by working-class women of all races and ethnicities,” says Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. “In short, our health care system is doing a poor job of serving the women who need it the most. With that knowledge, it’s clear that we need policy and practices that target non-college educated women with a particular emphasis on the persistent disparities women of color encounter. The Affordable Care Act has been critical in this effort and we must continue to strengthen it while fighting any efforts to destroy these important benefits.”

Isasi concluded, “One of the report’s most basic lessons is that bold public policy, like the ACA, can help millions of everyday people overcome important problems of daily life. Now is the time for a new round of bold leadership and action to take seriously the task to improve vulnerable people’s lives, not just the working-class women who have been left out, but everyone who has been left behind, or whose health and health care has been taken for granted by our nation’s leaders for far too long.”

Listen to the media telebriefing from October 18, 2018