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Understanding Stress Triggers for African Americans

To understand the influence of economic, social and health factors affecting African Americans, Penn State researchers have designed an index labeled ‘Living While Black’//.

Dr. Shaun Gabbidon, associate professor of criminal justice, and Dr. Steven Peterson, professor of politics and public policy, both at Penn State's Harrisburg campus, made these findings available in the September issue of the Journal of Black Studies.

"There are many previous studies on the impact of health, economic, sociological and criminological factors separately," said Gabbidon. "But this study tries to determine whether being Black in America exacts a 'social cost' by being exposed to several stressors that can severely affect the quality of life among Black Americans."

The Penn State researchers constructed a Living While Black index that includes state-level comparisons of Black poverty rates, the number of Black prisoners, the lack of access to health care, homicide rate, infant mortality rate, business earnings of African American-owned firms, and the percentage of non-elderly who are uninsured.

A Quality-of-Life index was also developed: including chronic drinking problem data by state, mental health problems, suicide rate, and shorter life spans.

Using the two indexes, the researchers found that the Blacks' quality of life was negatively affected by the economic factors (Black-owned businesses' sales and the poverty rate) and by death factors (the infant death rate and the homicide rate). But their research also reported that religiosity served as a buffer and reduced the impact of the stressors.

For African American businesses, we may need to study further the relationship between difficulty in business ownership and life stresses such as drinking and mental health problems. It could be that these outcomes are the products of the difficulties of obtaining funds to run their businesses effectively. Such relatio nships, which are the products of data from state-level measures, warrant additional investigation, Gabbidon noted. "In the interim, though, states might investigate the level of discrimination claims involving bank loans to Black businesses, and whether state commerce agencies are making appropriate levels of support available to new Black businesses," he added.

The number of Black prisoners and the uninsured Black residents who are not elderly were not linked to a negative quality of life, according to the researchers. They said it is likely that African Americans have "normalized" not having health insurance, therefore, it brings on little stress. Moreover, since Blacks, in the short term, are likely more concerned about being arrested than going to jail, they are likely not as stressed as one would anticipate.

The linkage between poverty and economic disadvantage and serious crimes is not new, but the Penn State study strongly illustrates the relationship.

Gabbidon noted, "States may need to invest in community-level programs aimed at keeping at-risk youth away from criminal activities. In addition, adequate levels of alcoholism and mental health counseling services will be necessary. Our research makes it clear that the comprehensive 'Living While Black' stress factors pose a substantial public health issue for all states. Coordinated public health strategies at the economic, health and social levels will pay for themselves over the long run."


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