Deeper and smarter investments in education, infrastructure, economic security, housing, and other priorities that serve us all can eliminate barriers to good health for low-income residents and communities of color, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
While access to health care plays an important role in influencing health outcomes, opportunities for better health begin where we live, work, learn, and play – and these are factors that are largely shaped by state budget and policy decisions.
Washington state is relatively healthy compared to the rest of the nation, yet opportunities to be healthy are not equitably distributed. Where there is greater income and wealth inequality, there are also greater disparities in health. Income and wealth inequality and a history of structural racism have created barriers to health for communities of color and low-income residents in Washington. For example:
- Black residents die two years earlier and American Indian residents die six years earlier than white residents, on average.
- Babies of color born are more likely than white babies to be born at a low birthweight. More tragically, Black and American Indian babies born in Washington are nearly twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthdays.
- Children, seniors, people of color, and people with lower incomes are living in communities most negatively affected by climate change. Communities of color in Washington are disproportionately exposed to air pollution and are more likely to live in communities with toxic pollution sites in need of cleanup.
These health inequities are unjust, and can be reversed. Where and how much our lawmakers choose to invest as a state – and how they raise the revenue to make investments – can determine whether (and for whom) opportunities to be healthy exist. This legislative session, state policymakers can invest in programs and policies that give everyone a chance to lead a healthy life. Lawmakers should remove barriers to better health by advancing policies that:
- Increase economic security: Enact a modern Working Families Tax Credit and reinvest in the WorkFirst/Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program
- Promote access to postsecondary education: Create a statewide Child Savings Account program
- Raise revenue equitably: Enact a capital gains tax that provides the revenue to help maintain the quality of the places in which residents live, work, learn, and play.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report underscores the incredible impact our legislative priorities will have on producing healthy and thriving communities across Washington. Read the full report, “Better State Budget, Policy Decisions Can Improve Health.”