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Tackling root causes of disparities would unlock Ohio’s full economic potential | Opinion



If every Ohioan had the chance to live a healthy life and fully take part in the state’s economy, our state and all its residents would benefit. Ohioans would enjoy a greater quality of life, and we would unlock the state’s full economic potential. However, the data clearly shows that opportunities for health and economic stability are not available to all Ohioans.  

New research from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio reveals that ending all racial and ethnic disparities in the state could lead to 10% growth in Ohio’s economy. That would be a gain of $79 billion in economic output each year by 2050.  

Ending these disparities would also bring other benefits, including: 

  • $40 billion more in total income 
  • $30 billion more in consumer spending 
  • $4 billion more in state and local sales tax revenues 
  • $3 billion in reduced healthcare spending 
  • $2 billion in increased employee productivity 
  • $821 million in reduced corrections spending 

A similar analysis conducted for a local coalition, All-In Cincinnati, found that if racial gaps in income were eliminated, the Gross Domestic Product in the Cincinnati metro area would have been $9.9 billion higher in 2014. 

Racial disparities in Cincinnati and throughout Ohio are the result of barriers that are rooted in racism and discrimination. For example, decades of racist housing policies, such as redlining and racially restricted covenants, and present-day practices such as predatory lending, have resulted in neighborhood segregation, poverty and fewer resources invested in communities of color. As a result, people of color are more likely to experience harmful community conditions that affect health. Examples of these conditions include food deserts, gun violence and unsafe, unstable housing.  

Race and life expectancy

These conditions lead to gaps in life expectancy as wide as decades between ZIP codes just miles apart and leave billions of dollars on the table that could be invested in our communities. 

According to HPIO: 

  • Black Ohioans are 6.1 times more likely than white Ohioans to experience physical or emotional symptoms due to experiences of racism.  
  • Black Ohioans are 1.6 times more likely than white Ohioans to experience premature death. This translates to more than 135,000 years of life lost annually.  
  • Hispanic Ohio children are 3.2 times more likely than white children to experience food insecurity.  

Locally, we’ve seen promising efforts to lay the groundwork to eliminate racism and discrimination. In 2020, both the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County declared racism a public health crisis, a vital first step. Regional funding partners have since invested millions to advance equity, including through the Boots on the Ground and Black Empowerment Works partnerships, bi3’s recent $6.5 million in grants for health equity, and Interact for Health’s $2 million investment in advancing health justice.  

There is much more for us to do together to build upon this foundation. Ohioans from all sectors, communities and backgrounds can take steps to support the well-being of every Ohioan and increase everyone’s potential to contribute:  

  • As individuals, we can attend community council or town hall meetings, ask questions and hold leaders accountable for improvement. 
  • Business leaders can invest in the diverse communities they serve, for example by hiring talent and supporting small businesses from communities of color. 
  • Policymakers can implement the most effective local policies and programs that promote justice and fairness, such as those advanced by CityHealth.

Our communities are only as healthy as our least-healthy neighbor − it is up to all of us to address the systems that have led to gaps in outcomes. We must end the disparities that prevent us from reaching our potential as a state so that our region can become a place where all people are healthy and thrive.  

Ashlee Young is Vice President of Policy and Engagement at Interact for Health, a health foundation that works so that people in our region are healthy and thriving, regardless of who they are or where they live. Jill Miller is President and CEO of bi3, a grantmaking initiative to transform health for all people in Greater Cincinnati by fueling innovation and health equity. Amy Rohling McGee is the President of the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, a nonpartisan and independent nonprofit organization focused on advancing evidence-informed policies. 

Ashlee Young is Vice President of Policy and Engagement at Interact for Health.
Jill Miller is President & CEO of bi3.
Amy Rohling McGee is the President of the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.
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