Race, place and ethnicity still play large roles in whether a baby is born prematurely or to a teenager or single mother in Michigan, according to a new report.


The 2010 Right Start in Michigan report released Tuesday found that the health and well-being of mothers and their infants have been improving or at least stable statewide between 2000 and 2008 in three areas: pre-term births, teen births or births to teens with a previous child. However, African-Americans had worse rates than whites in seven of eight measured areas.

“Despite all this talk of trying to address the disparity, clearly it’s not happening,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell of the Lansing-based nonprofit Michigan League for Human Services and director of the Kids Count in Michigan project, which produces the annual report. “In fact, we’re now seeing that some trends in the African-American community in particular that are worsening.”

The report found that births to unmarried mothers or women without a high school diploma were the two areas showing the largest gap by race. For example, African-American infants were about two-and-a-half times more likely to be born to an unmarried mother, and Hispanic babies were four times more likely than their white counterparts to have mothers without a high school diploma or equivalent.

Still, race is not only factor in birth circumstances. For instance, the report found that more than 30 percent of African-American births in Jackson are to teens, compared with 9 percent in the Detroit suburb of Southfield.

Zehnder-Merrell said poverty levels, social support and access to health and educational programs lead to variations among ethnic and racial communities. Michigan communities with the highest poverty largely match the list of high-risk communities for maternal and infant health, according to the report.

The report used data from recent state birth certificate records, and examines factors researchers say will help determine whether a child will be ready for kindergarten or more prone to chronic diseases.

“These disparities at birth preview the achievement gap,” she said. “If we don’t do any kind of interventions to make sure these kids born in these circumstances have a better chance to enter school, we’re going to have a continuing gap that plays all the way through … to unemployment.”


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