Rising unemployment hits minorities hard, could affect health care coverage too

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With unemployment rates for racial minorities exceeding the national average, minorities continue to be disproportionately affected by the economic downturn and overrepresented among the people who lack health insurance.

In March, the White unemployment rate was 7.9 percent compared to 11.4 percent for Latinos and 13.3 percent for African Americans.

Overall, the nation’s unemployment rate reached a 26-year high, up from 12.5 million in February (8.1 percent) to 13.2 million in March (8.5 percent), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Since the great majority of Americans with health insurance have coverage through their employers, health care experts think rising unemployment will lead to more uninsured people. A 2008 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that for each percentage point the unemployment rate rises, an additional 1.1 million people are uninsured.

This correlation between unemployment and health insurance will likely exacerbate existing racial disparities in health care coverage, with African Americans nearly twice as likely and Latinos three times as likely to be uninsured than whites.

The recession is also causing some struggling Americans to put off seeking needed care. A recent Gallup poll found that the percentage of Americans who are chosing to defer treatment because of medical costs rose from 19 percent in 2002 to 29 percent in late 2008.