The U.S. Black Maternal and Child Health Crisis Is Centuries in the Making

An in-depth analysis of how 405 years of indifference to the health of Black women and their children has created the stark inequities seen today.
Blog Post
Library of Congress
June 6, 2024

"When It Comes to Maternal Mortality, The U.S. Has Outdone Itself" is the first subtitle for a new interactive report I researched, wrote, and produced. I chose it because as I immersed myself in studies connecting the dots between systemic racism and the health disparities disproportionately affecting Black communities and the subsequent lack of family-supportive public policies and investment, I noticed that it is, in fact, an unfortunate space where the United States excels.

Compared to other high-income, medically advanced nations, the U.S. has a significantly higher rate of overall maternal mortality. There are 22 deaths for every 100,000 live births—nearly double the rate for Chile (14.3) and more than triple the rate for the United Kingdom (5.5). The disparity worsens for Black American women who, as a single demographic, have a higher maternal death rate than every single country included in a 2024 study by the Commonwealth Fund.

What we’re seeing in 2024 concerning the health and well-being of Black birthing persons and children is a disaster 405 years in the making. It began when the first enslaved Africans landed on the eastern shore of Virginia, and the harm traveled throughout the colonies, weaved its way through every plantation, every sharecropper farm, every medical school, and every hospital. It’s a depressing inversion of the popular story of American exceptionalism. Even more so when you consider that generations following the Black folks maimed, murdered, disrespected, and disregarded to fuel that advancement rarely benefit from it

At the Better Life Lab, we work at the intersection of character-driven, solutions-focused journalism, research, policy, and popular culture. This report, which I’m sharing below, is heavily informed by BLL’s mission to advance work-family justice, intersectional gender equity, and elevate the value of care. I conclude with some hopeful mitigations and promising practices—such as job-protected paid family and medical leave and implicit bias training for care providers. We hope in the future to more deeply explore and lift up these real-world instances of family-supportive work and care policies and emerging best practices. The report seeks to paint a North Star vision of what’s possible for a more equitable world and how we get there. When it comes to the effects of racism, it does not have to be this way.

A path forward to a better future is possible.