Racial and ethnic health disparities cost the U.S. economy $451 billion in 2018, a 41% increase from the 2014 estimate of $320 billion, according to results from a study funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), part of the National Institutes of Health. The researchers also reported that the total burden of education-related health disparities for people with less than a college degree reached $978 billion in 2018.

Looking just at national estimates, researchers found that the economic burden, by racial and ethnic minority groups, included the following:

  • Most of the economic burden for racial and ethnic disparities was borne by the Black population (69%) because of the level of premature mortality.
  • Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander ($23,225) and American Indian/Alaska Native  ($12,351) populations had the highest economic burden per person. 
  • Most of the economic burden was attributed to premature deaths for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (90%), Black (77%), and American Indian/Alaska Native (74%) populations. For Asian (55%) and Hispanic/Latino (43%) populations, most of the burden was from excess medical care costs and lost labor market productivity, respectively. 

Researchers also discovered that the national estimates for economic burden by educational level were:

  • Per person, adults with a high school diploma had the highest burden ($9,982), followed closely by adults with less than a high school diploma ($9,467), and then adults with some college ($2,028).
  • Although most of the burden of education-related health inequities was borne by adults with a high school diploma or GED (61%), a disproportionate share was borne by adults with less than a high school diploma or GED. 
  • Across all educational levels, most of the burden was attributable to premature deaths (66%), followed by lost labor market productivity (18%), and excess medical care costs (16%). 

“The exorbitant cost of health disparities is diminishing U.S. economic potential,” Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, MD, NIMHD director, said. “We have a clear call to action to address social and structural factors that negatively impact not only population health but also economic growth.”