Like in most areas of the country, Erie County's Black residents are at a disadvantage to their white counterparts when it comes to education, health care, affordable housing, transportation, well-paying jobs and opportunities to own a business.
To address those disparities, Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper's office and members of Erie County Council are poised to declare racism a public health crisis.
"We have laid out a vision, a strategy," said Gary Lee, Erie County director of administration. "This did not happen overnight. It's going to take time to make some changes. But we know we all share a role and we are all responsible for improving our county for everyone."
Lee said there is "no debate" that there is work to do to improve life for all county residents.
County Councilman Andre Horton, who is serving as council chairman and who became the first Black person elected to an Erie County government office, in 2014, has been working with Dahlkemper's administration for a few months on the resolution.
The resolution presented to County Council at its finance committee meeting Thursday says that "to address the impact of racism on public health at all levels of county government," leaders must act to make "fundamental changes to all structural systems in Erie County.
"For equitable policies and programs to be effective, attention, priority and resources must be allocated to the implementation of strategies that are long-term and sustainable," a section of the resolution reads.
If passed, Erie County would join a growing list of dozens of cities and states across the country to name racism a public health crisis following racial unrest that began in late May when a Minneapolis police officer killed 46-year-old George Floyd, who was Black, by kneeling on his neck for several minutes as he was handcuffed and laying face down in the street.
"Erie County Council and the Erie County executive intend to take immediate action to address these obvious and crippling inequities, which are at the root of health disparities in our community and one of the effects of racism and anti-racism requires fundamental changes to all structural systems in Erie County," the resolution says.
Melissa Lyon, director of the Erie County Department of Health, said health disparities in communities of color have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic across the country and in Erie.
"The disparities are real and fixing racism from a public health perspective will naturally begin to turn the tide and begin to balance our equitable health," she said.
The resolution notes food insecurity rates are higher among Black residents (22%) than white residents (9%) and more than half of the census tracts in the city of Erie, where a majority of Black residents live, are at least a half a mile away from the nearest supermarket.
The infant mortality rate among the Black population of Erie County is nearly five times higher than the white population (22.8 of every 1,000 live births compared to 4.9 of 1,000 live births).
More babies are born underweight to Black mothers (12.8%) than there are to white mothers (7%). Also, Black mothers are less likely to receive prenatal care in the first trimester of their pregnancy.
Black adults also suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, mental health issues, poor physical health and obesity more than white adults.
As for housing, Black residents disproportionately occupy subsidized housing units (37%), have higher rental rates (20%) and significantly lower home ownership rates (5%) despite making up 16% of Erie County's population.
The resolution also notes the wide gaps in educational attainment and income between Black and white families.
Horton said there are revisions that will be made to the resolution before it will be put up for a vote.
Lee said it brings awareness of the disparities to the community, holds leaders accountable for ensuring that changes are made and demands action.
"We're all situated and we're all motivated to take positive action which will improve the lives of everyone," he said.
Contact Matthew Rink at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ETNrink.