Black males in Michigan die at an alarming rate

While Michigan may be aging faster than any other state, our overall death numbers are not growing. Provisional death totals for 2011, just released by Michigan’s Department of Community Health, show that the total number of deaths in Michigan fell by 313 between 2010 and 2011. If we were to look at the last three years (2009-11) compared to the previous three (a common method used in health circles to account for one year anomalies) we would see an average annual increase of 478 deaths or 0.5 percent.

Let’s just look at the one-year trend for a moment. County trends came out even with 41 decreases and 41 increases. Only Luce County, with a mere 65 deaths, experienced no change. Wayne County had the largest numeric decrease of 508, followed by Calhoun (126), Kalamazoo and Menominee (both at 117).  Something was happening on the southwest side of the state because Cass, St. Joseph and Berrien counties also experienced “healthy” decreases. Menominee, which dropped from 272 to 155, experienced, by far, the largest percentage decrease at -43 percent. Menominee also experienced a jump of six births between 2010 and 2011, after years of decline, with births outnumbering deaths!  Could we be on the verge of future growth?

The largest numerical increase in deaths occurred in Macomb County at 314. Kent was a distant second with 146, followed by Ingham (95), Monroe (93) and Midland (91). When we change the view to greatest percentage increase we find Benzie (-19.1 percent), Osceola (-18.2) and Charlevoix (-16.9), all counties with less than 300 annual deaths.

So as not to disturb the health researchers in our reading audience, I will now move to an analysis using 3-year averages and compare the 2006-2008 and 2009-2011 periods. Now we find 56 counties with increasing deaths, 26 with decreasing deaths and Montcalm which held steady. (See accompanying map to know how your county compares.)

The large numerical decreases occurred in the counties that have experienced significant levels of population loss – Wayne and Saginaw counties. The question is whether these trends are really correlated? Are we losing an older cohort who is dying elsewhere or does population loss lead to longer lifespans for those who remain? In addition, a number of the Upper Peninsula counties have seen death numbers decline as well.

The largest numerical increases were found in Oakland (276 or 3.0 percent), Macomb (259 and 3.5), Kent (128 and 3.1), Genesee (122 and 3.1), Livingston (103 and 9.0) and Kalamazoo (100 and 5.2).

In addition to county death totals, the new data provide us with another way to compare counties – by age-adjusted death rates[1].  When viewed this way, deaths take on a very different look. In fact, the county with the lowest age-adjusted death rate of 409.4 (Menominee, which is nestled next to Wisconsin in the Upper Peninsula) is less than half that of the 18 counties with the highest rates. At the top of the list is Kalkaska at 909.5, just east of Grand Traverse County where the rate was just 677.6.

One last analysis that the new data allow is gender and race (only white and African American) age-adjusted death rates. Figure 1 looks at the rates by gender and race for all deaths, while Figure 2 targets the population cohorts of 15 to 24 and 25 to 34 years of age.

Figure 1 clearly shows that white females have the lowest age-adjusted death rate while African American men have the highest. In fact, the rate for African American men is 1.85 times higher. While the rate for African American females is 1.24 times higher than that of white females, it is less than the rate (0.91) of white males.

The discrepancy between the death rates of African-American males and the other groups is accentuated when we study specific age cohorts.  It is well-documented that young African-American males tend to be concentrated in central-city neighborhoods with high rates of crime. We hear about the “mean streets” and the “school to prison pipeline.” We know too well the results of  “institutional racism.”

Figure 2 shows these results very clearly. Higher infant death rates for African Americans as a whole (2.6 to 1), both male and female, give way to a reduced  age-adjusted death rate discrepancy (1.9 to 1) for the 1 to 14 years of age cohort. The rate for African-American males and females at this age is the same. However, the picture changes dramatically once our youth reach their early teens and move through their early 30s.

Figure 2 shows the age-adjusted rates by race and gender for the 15-24 years of age and 25-34 years of age cohorts.

It is easy to see the large discrepancies between African-American males and each of the other three groups.

The 190.6 deaths per 100,000 rate for 15-24 year olds is 2.1 times that of white males and 3.7 times that of African-American females.

The rate for 25-34 year old African-American males jumps to 284.8 per 100,000! This is still 2.1 times that of white males, with a slight reduction to 3.0 times that of African-American females.

While the details for 2011 are not yet available, a review of 2010 shows clearly the leading factors driving these rates. African-American males 15-24 years of age had homicide, accidents and suicide as the three leading causes of death. Homicide was way ahead of the others and accounted for 103.6 deaths per 100,000. Accidents ranked number 1 for white males with a rate of only 35.8 per 100,000.  Homicide ranked fourth in the list with a rate of 2.5. The African-American male rate was 41 times higher! While the homicide rate goes up for both races in the 25-34 years of age cohort, the rank is still number 1 for African Americans and number 5 for whites, the ratio drops slightly to 28 to 1.

While we started out looking at what the new death data tell us geographically, we finish with a much more important story. In order for Michigan to be successful, all its residents need access to opportunity – in services, in public safety, in education and resources across the board. Too many black and brown boys are growing up in conditions of very low opportunity and must truly “beat the odds” to not be another statistic. We have blamed the victim for too long.  Let us acknowledge the realities and institute the policies and programs that will help to reverse the trend and provide the resources for success.

[1] Age adjusting rates is a way to make fairer comparisons between groups with different age distributions. For example, a county having a higher percentage of elderly people may have a higher rate of death or hospitalization than a county with a younger population, merely because the elderly are more likely to die or be hospitalized. Age adjustment can make the different groups more comparable.

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Thu, 08/08/2013 - 12:42pm
While the study adjusts for age, it might also be interesting to adjust for lifestyle factors. There seems to be data available for rates of obesity, smoking, and gun deaths as 3 factors which could be used. As we get more and more into government health care for all, we should also get more and more into issues of personal responsibility. It is just not fair for one who lives a lifestyle to minimize healthcare needs to be forced to subsidize those that do not.
Thu, 08/08/2013 - 1:11pm
Regarding Rich's comments.... (1) Research suggests that "lifestyle" diseases (e.g., obesity) are related to environmental factors, which are in turn related to policymaking. For example, the availability of healthy food and recreation in a neighborhood influences diet and exercise. (2) Gun deaths are not a "lifestyle" disease. A young man who lives in a high crime area is at higher risk of dying of gun violence regardless of whether he is involved in criminal activity. Individual choices matter--and personal responsibility should be encouraged--but it does not make much sense to reduce explanations of death rates to lifestyle choices.
Thu, 08/08/2013 - 1:18pm
Rich... You point out a number of important factors that contribute to the gap. Homicide, primarily gun deaths, is a large contributor to the discrepancy. Smoking and obesity rates for African American males are not a truly differentiating factor though the data are not readily available to make adequate comparisons. Homicide is indeed where attention should be placed - especially between the ages of 18 and 34. Rather than blaming the victim however, we should be looking at the factors that drive these numbers - starting with how African American males are discriminated against in school (K through 12), positive community role models, lack of neighborhood opportunity, etc. It is easier to blame the victim than explore the precipitating factors.
Thu, 08/08/2013 - 4:10pm
Kurt, Is it blame or is it simple fact when a person makes a choice that contributes to increasing risk factors? If we ignore lifestyle choices and they are the most singificant factor increasing risk then wouldn;t we be ensuring that we would no be able to improve the life expectancy of those individuals?
Mon, 11/23/2015 - 1:25pm
Obesity and smoking are NOT the reasons for these young Black males' deaths. It would take decades to die from either one of them. These males are dying in their teens and 20s.
Charles Richards
Thu, 08/08/2013 - 1:45pm
"We have blamed the victim for too long. Let us acknowledge the realities and institute the policies and programs that will help to reverse the trend and provide the resources for success." Yet Mr. Metzger says of black males, "Homicide was way ahead of the others and accounted for 103.6 deaths per 100,000." And goes on to say of white males, "Homicide ranked fourth in the list with a rate of 2.5. The African-American male rate was 41 times higher!" But who was killing those black males? Other black males. Yet, according to his logic of the environment being responsible for all their actions, these perpetrators are also "victims." Does he advocate therefore that we shouldn't punish them? Isn't it possible that the principal reason for the astonishingly high homicide rate among black males is the abysmal homicide closure rate of 8.5% in Detroit? Isn't that a failure to socialize retribution? Steven Pinker, in his excellent book "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined," points out that a significant contributor to the historic decline in violence over the centuries was the monopolization of force by governments. That monopolization of force freed people from the Hobbesian need for each individual to either stage a preemptive strike against a perceived threat or establish such a fearsome reputation that no one would engage in aa attack on themselves, their family or friends. The prevalence of the concept of "disrespect" in Detroit is evidence that they live in a Hobbesian state. The most effective approach to lowering the black male homicide rate is not to "provide the resources for success," but to sharply raise the homicide closure rate. When Mr. Metzger says that we should " institute the policies and programs that will help to reverse the trend" I suspect that he is advocating massive programs to alter the environment of black males. (Actually, liberals such as Mr. Metzger aren't terribly interested in whether such programs succeed in reversing the trend. They are generally content that such programs have redistributed resources to the less well off.) The current controversy about "Stop, Question and Frisk" in New York city offers an illuminating choice between the merits of law enforcement and social programs. The "Stop, Question and Frisk" policy has dramatically reduced the homicide rate in that city. The difference between the old homicide rate and the current rate amounts to tens of thousands of lives saved over the years. Given a choice, would Mr. Metzger choose to continue that program, or would he scrap it in favor of attacking the "root causes of crime?"
Thu, 08/08/2013 - 3:12pm
Charles -- Your counterargument to Metzger is spoiled by a false dichotomy: You suggest that the choice is between law enforcement and social programs--why can't we combine them? It also borders on caricature (e.g., your characterization of liberals). You do point us toward an important research finding: Since the Middle Ages, there has been (apparently) a huge decline in homicide rates in the West. One study indicates that homicide rates in medieval Oxford (England) were higher than those in today's Detroit. There are some questions about the data, but if the findings are correct, then perhaps identifying the factors that led to that decline can be used to lower homicide rates today. Some researchers speculate that a decline in chivalry (including the code that a man must retaliate against the slightest disrespect) led to a decline in homicide. Why did chivalry change? Perhaps it was better law enforcement...perhaps it was better living conditions (why risk death when you expect a long, pleasurable life?)...perhaps it was some cultural institution (e.g., changes in religious ideas)...perhaps it was a combination of factors. [There are several excellent resources for exploring this research. A good place to start is the work of the late Erik Monkkonen.] I look forward to the day when message boards will be spaces for useful public debate instead of strawman arguments that pit "liberals" against "conservatives."
Thu, 08/08/2013 - 4:46pm
It seems a whole lot of people have 'THE' answer and yet I haven't heard anyone invesitaget the 'rootcauses', ask the question 'why'. If we investigate the homicides, the questions need to be why and continue to ask why until we there are no more why's to ask. As an example, if the death was a homicide is with a gun one of the why's could be why was the gun present, why did that person carry the gun, why did that person feel the need to have the gun, etc. We need to know the 'root causes' before we will ever be able to prevent a reoccurence. It has been proven that all of 'the' answers that have been tried have failed, so why not try asking the why's before we try another answer?
Thu, 08/08/2013 - 5:00pm
There seem a significant difference between the various groups. Based on that difference it would seem we have there successful groups. And yet all we hear about is the least successful group. Why isn't anyone asking about the successes and trying to understand the how and why they are being so successful? It seems focusing on the highest risk group creates a great deal of political speculation about why they are a greates risk, speclation on the remedies, and much political rhetoric. This seems to be true of any issue where the focus is on the disappointing exception. There seems to be less resistance when talking about successes, less poltical interest in success and the reasons for success, and less conflict when talking about why and how those successes are achieved. I wonder why, as Mr. Metzger does, the focus is on the disappointing exception and little or no interest in the successes. It would seem that we could learn more by understand the why and how those who avoid the highest death rate do it, and there maybe ways to use that to teach others how to succeed. Maybe by habit or by simply going with the flow or by feeling that the exception is easier to report on we get from Mr. Metzger and Bridge this type of focus. It would seem that there is less controversy when we talk about success and it would seem easier to build on/from/reinforcing success instead of confronting the exceptions.
Michael Booker
Mon, 08/19/2013 - 10:16pm
This commentary points to the alarming rate of black males dying with comparable statistics from previous years. It is a fact black on black crime in Grand Rapids has shown a decrease in the past year with continued efforts by organizations such as neighborhood watch groups, silent observer services, and community advocacy programs getting groups and concerned individuals involved in reducing this rate. It also identifies the need for more visible avenues for success in reaching out to those who lack opportunities in securing employment, affordable housing, health care, and a decent livable wage to work and provide for their families. This rate will only increase if efforts are made by those individuals/employers/policy makers who can make a difference in stopping this systemic trend.
Karol Price
Wed, 03/04/2015 - 12:01pm
Black males are being murder by the police in alaming rates and none have weapons but whie males such as he one who shot up the theatre was handcffed an arreste. i guess shooting all rhose people is not a hreat but buying or selling cigarettes is.