Vote Like Your Health Depends On It

The 2014 midterm elections are tomorrow. Either through early voting, absentee ballots or at polling places on November 4, citizens across the country will cast votes for candidates who will have the state, local or federal constitutional power to make policies that could affect all of our lives. Interestingly, this election cycle has a record setting 100 Black candidates running for state and congressional offices– the most seen in any cycle since Reconstruction.

The truth is, many factors like employment, housing and the economy, that contribute to your health and wellness are in play with the outcome of this election. There’s a lot at stake and midterm elections matter. Everyone should vote like their health depends on it.

At the Black Women’s Health Imperative, our work centers on the notion of equity in health for all people, especially women, of color. Health equity means that regardless of race or sex or socio-economic status, everyone has the right to live a long, healthy life and have access to quality, affordable health care. A woman’s quality and length of life shouldn’t depend on where she lives, how much money she makes, who she loves or the color of her skin. However, studies show that where we are born and grow up affects the overall health and wellness of each of us.

Policies and laws have more bearing on our health than genetics, affecting where we live, where we work, means of transportation, our earning ability and everyday lives. Your state or local government set zoning requirements for residential housing and industrial sites and the placement of each could affect your quality of life, especially if you’re closer to an industrial site with environmental toxins that exacerbate chronic conditions like asthma. In states, cuts to education programs like state-funded college scholarship programs, keep kids out of college, locking them into low-wage jobs. Cuts to the federally-funded Head Start program in states mean a loss of access to early education for more low-income children who need a boost, and cuts to other federal programs like free lunch and SNAP benefits hurt kids who depend on these programs for daily meals. And we know, a hungry child cannot learn.We are also seeing disturbing trends across the states in passage of laws that restrict women’s access to reproductive health care, infringing on their right to access the kind of care they need.

In Congress, we have seen already 54 votes to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which has successfully provided health insurance coverage to 10 million people, decreasing the rate of uninsured Blacks from 24 percent to 16 percent. Yet despite this success, depending upon the outcome of this election, we may see many more attempts to undermine or end parts of the Act which helps everyday people become healthier and have access to high quality, cost effective care. Similarly, Congress has voted down passage of a law that would provide equal pay for equal work for women everywhere, and refuses to raise the minimum wage. Both wage issues are very important to the health and wellness of Black women and their families because 53 percent of us are the primary breadwinners. Important child nutrition and state children’s health insurance programs are set to expire in 2015, and Congress must pass new laws or kids who access these programs might lose valuable and needed tools to keep them active and healthy.

Why should you vote? Because the choices you make at the polls, or don’t make if you choose not to vote, have a direct effect on the quality of your life and of your health. Vote for the candidates whose platforms best reflect your concerns and priorities for a better today and future for you and your family. The health of your family and your community may depend on it.