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County health cuts hit poor youths where they need most help

Sunday, February 04, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by MARY MITCHELL Sun-Times Columnist

Isn't this the way it always happens? A politician begs for your vote while promising to provide every service imaginable, then turns a deaf ear when it is time to deliver on those promises. It's even worse for African-American voters.
As a voting bloc, blacks are so distrusting of Republicans that a cow could win an election if it was being led by a Democrat.
But this steadfast political loyalty hasn't significantly improved the lives of people who are clinging to the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. In fact, poor urban blacks with their bad schools and high crime statistics are often depicted by powerful people as the scourge of the black middle-class.
Bill Cosby, the Social Critic, disparages them for the way they walk and talk. Oprah, the Queen of Luxury, condemns them for wanting iPods and designer clothes.
So it should come as no surprise that Cook County Board President Todd Stroger is ignoring his poorest constituents. Despite the overwhelming support blacks gave him, there isn't even the pretense that these impoverished black people will get anything for their votes besides a harder way to go.
Tremendous challenges
As noted in the introduction to the "Black Youth Project," a research survey by the University of Chicago that was released last week, black youths across the Midwest are facing tremendous challenges:
•  At 34 percent, the poverty rate for blacks is nearly twice what it is for whites.
•  In 2005, nearly 20 percent of blacks 18 years and older had not completed high school.
•  In 2004, black youths comprised 55 percent of those ages 13-24 with HIV and accounted for 53 percent of HIV infections among young people ages 20-24. And black youths account for the largest number of new HIV-AIDS infections.
Yet Stroger's proposed cuts to fill a $500 million hole will hit these young people the hardest.
Shutting down health clinics won't hurt committeemen or elected officials, like U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, both of whom supported Stroger's dubious candidacy.
The massive cuts will push low-income people in Cook County off the ladder altogether by closing down community health facilities and other services this population is dependent upon.
University of Chicago researchers found that while 59 percent of white youths reported receiving medical care from a private doctor, only 40 percent of black youths and 39 percent of Hispanic youths reported receiving such medical care. Indeed, most blacks responding to the survey said they receive their medical care from emergency rooms and clinics.
Only 16 percent of white youths said they access health care in this manner.
Letting young people down
Given this disparity, it is not surprising that the majority of black and Hispanic youths said they believe blacks are treated less fairly than whites in the health care system, compared with 32 percent of white youths who agreed.
"This is the generation that saw the [mostly] black Katrina victims being left to 'rot' for a week in the same way another generation saw the videotaped Rodney King beating," says Cathy Cohen, a professor and lead researcher on the project.
"We have to understand the connections. We are asking young people to make healthy sexual decisions, but in in-depth interviews, these young people are asking us to give them the information and the services."
She pointed to the plan to close community health centers as an example of how adults let down young people in poor neighborhoods, then bash them as being the source of all our problems.
"You can't complain if you cut out the education and services, and people make decisions about sex and health and reproduction that you don't agree with," she said.
Dr. Clarissa Couch, a dentist who works for the Cook County Health Department, called the proposal to close public health clinics that provide dental services in places like Ford Heights "insane."
"Today I've already seen two new patients who need six months to a year worth of treatments. I am not going to be able to tell them that there is someplace else for them to go," she said.
But young black people who live below the poverty line don't have to continue to be used and abused.
Cohen noted that although black youths faced "political alienation," the majority of them still wanted the country to work for them. "They still believed that it can be a fair country," Cohen told me. "They still believe that by participating in politics they can make a difference."
They can. But not if they are silent.
Everyone who will be affected by these cuts should call Cook County Board President Todd Stroger at (312) 603-6400 and let him know they are mad as hell and they aren't going to take it anymore.

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