Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities;

A Business Case Update for Employers

Introduction: The Growing Diversity of the U.S. Workforce

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that race-based minorities, including Hispanics, African Americans and Asians, which currently represent one-third of the U.S. population, will become a majority in 2042. The working-age population is projected to become more than 50 percent minority in 2039 (up from 34 percent in 2008). By 2050, the working-age population in the United States is projected to be:

• More than 30 percent Hispanic (up from 15 percent in 2008);

• 15 percent black (up from 13 percent in 2008); and

• 9.6 percent Asian (up from 5.3 percent in 2008).

Employers need to be aware of these demographic shifts and to understand that in this new environment, a “one-size-fits-all” approach to employee health benefits will not be effective. 

Some employers go to great lengths to attract a diverse workforce. But they may not realize that these populations have diverse health needs and may experience different treatments when they seek health care. Such employers are well intentioned: they want to improve the health of employees and their dependents, and to that end, they provide a wealth of health benefits. In so doing, however, they assume that their investments will produce equal outcomes for all employees in terms of access to care and overall health status. Research is proving otherwise. Disparities in health and health care exist, even among employees with equal benefits.

Ensuring equal health care for all members of today’s workforce is imperative. But the issues are complex, and achieving success will require an active strategy, rather than a reactive approach. Waiting until health problems created by disparities occur and ignoring health care disparities, rather than addressing them in advance, will be costly to the employer and less than ideal for the employee.

This Issue Brief will:

1. Explore key causes of health disparities in the U.S. and its workforce;

2. Make a case for why it is more important than ever for employers to address disparities in health and health care; and

3. Present steps employers can take to address health disparities. 

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