According to a recent report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the infant mortality rate in our state is 5.9 per 1,000 live births — a proportion that jumps to 15.2 per 1,000 for black babies. The report also found that socioeconomic factors are correlated with infant deaths in Kansas. Although 32.4 percent of live births were funded by Medicaid between 2012 and 2016, this group accounted for 44.5 percent of infant deaths. …

While KDHE spokesman Jerry Kratochvil says the agency isn’t sure what’s causing this disparity, it isn’t difficult to come up with a general explanation. The high rate of infant deaths in the black community is a symptom of deeply ingrained racial inequality that still persists at all levels in Kansas and around the country.

For example, in a 2016 study published in Labour Economics, Michigan State University researchers Steven J. Haider, Todd Elder and John Goddeeris found that “infant mortality gaps for our six racial/ethnic groups exhibit many commonalities, and these commonalities suggest a prominent role for socio-economic differences.” One of the most pronounced commonalities they identify is a lack of education among nonwhite mothers.

… According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s most recent “Race for Results” report, 77 percent of Kansas children are fortunate enough to live in low-income areas, but this proportion falls to 51 percent for black children. Perhaps this explains why a 2012 study in Health Services Research found that almost twice as many African-Americans live in “zip codes with few or no primary care physicians” than whites. …

CDC data suggest that gap in health care is having an adverse effect on black mothers. While 25.8 percent of black mothers say they “received late (after first trimester) or no entry into prenatal care,” this proportion collapses to 12 percent for whites. …

Finally, according to KDHE, women who weren’t married when they got pregnant accounted for 36.3 percent of the live births but almost half of all infant deaths. More than 70 percent of the births in the African-American community are out of wedlock.

While it isn’t clear exactly what has caused the high infant mortality rate among black Kansans, we can certainly make a few educated guesses.

— The Topeka Capital-Journal