Revolution #89, May 20, 2007

Black Infant Mortality:
Intolerable Example of National Oppression in USA

The “infant mortality rate” is the number of babies who die before their first birthday for every 1,000 live births. In the United States, the infant mortality rate among Black people in 2004 (according to the most recent statistics) was 13.6—almost two and a half times higher than the rate of 5.7 for white people. This Black-white difference in infant mortality rates means that between 13 and 14 Black babies out of every 1,000 that are born do not even make it through their first year, compared to between 5 and 6 white babies out of every 1,000 that die before age 1.

The high rate of Black infant mortality in the U.S. is not only outrageous—that rate is increasing, especially in the Southern states with large Black populations, but other parts of the U.S. as well.

In Mississippi, for example, the death rate among infants of all nationalities rose from 9.7  per 1,000 live births in 2004 to 11.4 in 2005. This rise reveals the deadly effects of the cuts in Medicare, child health insurance, and other government programs on the poorest sections of the people.

While this rise in overall infant mortality rate is alarming, the rise among Black babies in Mississippi is truly devastating. Infant deaths among Black people in Mississippi rose from 14.2 per thousand in 2004—already much higher than the national rate—to 17 per thousand in 2005. There were also increases in Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana.

The outrageously high (and rising) Black infant mortality rates in Mississippi and neighboring states reveal the ugly legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in the South. But this is a problem that affects Black people throughout the U.S. And the high rate of infant mortality doesn't just hit the poorest Black women and families. Professional and middle class Black women have two to three times higher risk than white women of having babies with low birth weight—the top cause of early infant deaths.

The Black-white difference in infant mortality is a part of the overall “health gap” between African Americans and whites in the U.S. For example, Black people have a 25 percent higher rate of death from cancer than whites.

The problem of Black infant mortality is NOT fundamentally caused by individuals “acting irresponsibly”--it is tied in to the whole historical and present-day oppression weighing down on Black people as a whole. And that national oppression is in many ways intensifying today—with the increase in Black infant mortality rate in Mississippi and other areas as one glaring and intolerable example.

Sources: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control,; “In Turnabout, Infant Deaths Climb in South,” New York Times, April 22, 2007; "Closing the Health Gap," US Dept. of Health and Human Services,; "Special Report: Infant Mortality in Memphis," Memphis Commercial Appeal, March 6, 2005

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