Residents in one of Charleston’s congressional districts are in far better health than their neighbors, a health expert says, and may be the result of racial gerrymandering.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, who represents parts of greater Charleston, said the stark differences point to the need to continue working to improve health disparities in that region.
The Congressional District Health Dashboard is a new online tool from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and New York University Grossman School of Medicine. It allows people to compare the health of one congressional district to another across 36 different measures. These areas include health conditions such as diabetes or obesity, health outcomes such as death from heart disease, or health drivers such as air pollution or uninsured rates.
While there are databases that look at health issues by county or state, there hasn’t been one that provides a simple or comprehensive look by congressional district, which is why it was created, said Dr. Giridhar Mallya, senior policy officer at Robert Wood, a Johnson Foundation and Philadelphia Public health physician.
This tool can help those who want to talk to representatives about health issues in their district and can also be used by staff to explore those issues.
Congressional districts are political boundaries and often don’t follow natural divisions within a state or contain cohesive communities, Mallya said, and can divide suburban cities from rural areas. The goal is to maximize the chances of one team over the other in that district.
And often, that will be done by race, Malia said, which appears to be the case in South Carolina’s 1st and 6th districts after the 2020 census.
The 1st District, represented by Republican Nancy Mays, is 68 percent white and 17 percent black, while Clyburn’s 6th District is 42 percent white and 47 percent black. According to the US Census Bureau, South Carolina overall is 69 percent white and 27 percent black. Charleston County is 25 percent black.
The new makeup prompted a lawsuit by the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and a Hilton Head Island man in the 1st District who said black voters in Charleston were discriminated against in redistricting. A three-judge federal panel agreed in January that Charleston’s 30,000 black families were moved from the 1st to the 6th by “a racist gerrymander of Charleston County and the city of Charleston.”
The justices gave the SC, the General Assembly, until March 31 to submit the redrawn map for consideration, but state leaders have appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court. The justices have yet to decide whether to take the case, and the district lines remain in place for now.
According to the dashboard, bordering districts present a vastly different picture of the health of their constituents. By most measures, the Coastal 1st District is the healthiest of South Carolina’s seven congressional districts, equaling or exceeding the state average on nearly all measures, according to an analysis by The Post and Courier.
On the other hand, the largely rural 6th District, well below the state average in most areas, has the highest percentage of children in poverty in the state, is associated with the highest rate of diabetes and the highest rate of obesity, the analysis found.
The lack of 6th health resources has long been a concern for Clyburn, who has made it a priority in Congress.
“South Carolina has long been considered the ‘buckle’ of the stroke belt,” he said in a statement to the Post and Courier. “Underinvestment in the 6th Congressional District has led to growing health and economic disparities — especially in our rural communities. That’s why I’ve been an unabashed advocate for more resources in the 6th Congressional District.”
That includes his “10-20-30 anti-poverty formula,” which ensures that at least 10 percent of funds go to counties with a poverty rate of 20 percent or more over the past 30 years, which were included in various categories. Expenditure Bill
Clyburn also championed a broadband initiative that resulted in a $65 billion commitment to increase access. He and Gov. Henry McMaster recently helped launch a campaign to connect every family and business in South Carolina.
“I continue to advocate for closing the coverage gap to provide health insurance to the more than 100,000 South Carolinians living in poverty who remain uninsured because of our state’s refusal to expand Medicaid,” Clyburn added. South Carolina is one of 10 states that does not
Although the 6th has a high percentage of black residents, health disparities aren’t really about race, Mallya said.
“Poor health outcomes are often a function of a lack of investment or even investment in communities of color,” he said. Lack of access to care and resources like healthy food works against them. This can sometimes be complex factors, such as a measure on the dashboard called COVID risk. It looks at factors that put people at risk of severe COVID-19, such as chronic lung and kidney disease, as well as age and race, which can increase the risk of severe outcomes.
“This can help people understand what the risk is at a population level, not at an individual level, for poor COVID outcomes,” Mallya said. 1 had a 3 out of 10 risk, the lowest in the district, while 6 had a 10 out of 10.
6th District may not be state’s unhealthiest district, analysis finds. It would be the 7th District, which includes Myrtle Beach, Georgetown, Florence and the northeast corner counties.
A Post and Courier analysis found it had the highest rates of uninsured people and people with high blood pressure, the worst death rates for colorectal cancer and heart disease, the highest rate of gun homicides and the worst rate of premature death.
Caitlin Byrd Contribute to this report.