How “family-friendly” is life in Texas’ capital city for the low-income people of color who call Austin home?
That’s the question raised by a new report from Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman and Mamas of Color Rising, a pregnancy clinic and grassroots group of community organizers calling for an ongoing analysis of racial inequity in a city that prides itself on its progressive culture, but which sees markedly worse health outcomes for the majority of its residents: people of color.
Kellee Coleman, a co-founder of Mamas of Color Rising, said at a press conference at Austin City Hall on Thursday that the report “highlights the inequality that people of color face,” and added that her group is “particularly concerned about maternal and infant health outcomes for women of color.”
Austin consistently ranks high on lists of “family-friendly” American cities, but according to the Mamas of Color report, its “family-friendly” benefits are primarily enjoyed by white Austinites—a group which makes up the minority of total Austin residents.
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“The majority of Austin residents, people of color, face persistent inequities across a wide range of areas, demonstrating that Austin is a family-friendly city for only a minority of its population,” the report says.
In fact, more than 80 percent of white mothers in Austin receive early prenatal care, while 59 percent of Black mothers and 46 percent of Latina mothers receive prenatal care in their first trimester, according to the report.
The mortality rate for Black infants is more than three times the rate for white infants, and 100 percent of Spanish-speaking Latina women interviewed by Mamas of Color Rising reported “that limited access to care and to language translation were significant barriers to ensuring prenatal care.”
The study lays out an “equity assessment tool” for analyzing the impact of city initiatives, programs, and policies on communities of color, and Austin Mayor Steve Adler joined the grassroots groups at Thursday’s press conference to lend his support for the new initiative.
“We can’t wait,” said Adler, who said that the “equity tool”—which challenges policymakers and bureaucrats to ask a series of questions about city programs—would be an “important device for letting us understand the impact of what we do.”
The assessment tool alone will not be enough to address racial inequality in the city, said Paula X. Rojas, a co-founder of Mamas and the lead author of the study, which calls for analysis and changes not only to the provision of maternal and infant health care in the city, but looks at a variety of “social determinants of health,” such as employment status, race, gender, and education.
The Mamas group and city officials were joined by representatives from the city’s upcoming Dell Medical School, the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, and allgo, a “statewide queer people of color organization” in calling for implementation of the equity tool.
Priscilla Hale, director of allgo, told Rewire that the equity assessment tool would allow grassroots organizations like hers, and like Mamas of Color Rising, to hold city officials accountable for creating change.
“We can say, ‘You all said you would do this,'” said Hale. “We can challenge anything, and say, ‘This is not being followed.'”
Hale said that a particular advantage of the Mamas report, and its second recommendation—that the city support local, community-based groups and projects that are created by, and for, low-income Austinites of color—is its intersectional approach to creating change.
“It encourages a broader scope,” said Hale, in analyzing not only health-care outcomes, but in advocating for better access to education, transportation, and social service resources.
“You can’t say, ‘Oh that passed,’ and then forget about it,” Hale said. “This is a very intersectional collaboration that gives other groups opportunities to come forward.”