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HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
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How Does Poverty Fuel the African-American HIV Epidemic?

February 8, 2012

Ingrid Floyd

Ingrid Floyd

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released results of a study in July 2010 discussing the HIV epidemic in impoverished urban areas of the United States. The results of the study show that those who live in poverty, African American or not, had an HIV prevalence of 2.4 percent compared to those who live above the poverty line, with a prevalence of 1.2 percent. African Americans experience a 2.1 percent HIV prevalence if living in poverty, compared to a 1.7 percent overall rate for African Americans. 46 percent of African Americans live in poverty compared to 10 percent of whites. This highlights the disparities of just being African American in the United States.

People who live in poverty are more concerned with food and housing than condom negotiation and safe sex behaviors. Mothers are concerned about how to feed their kids tonight and maintain a roof over their heads instead of adherence to medications. Many persons who live in poverty have unstable housing, which for women can be defined as living with a man who provides for them and their kids. Therefore, the woman is less likely to negotiate safe sex in order to satisfy the person providing for her than if she had her own stable housing.

Persons who live in poverty often live in areas where there are fewer resources available such as HIV education and testing. Poverty also leads to illegal behaviors such as drug use, as a coping skill; or drug trade, to provide income. Both lead to increased risk of HIV as it has been shown that drug trade increases incarceration, which removes African-American men from the community and therefore increases sharing of partners by women due to lack of available male partners. And let's not start to speak about recidivism in African-American communities and the impact on relationships. Drug use diminishes judgment and the ability to negotiate safe sex or the sensibility to practice safe sex or reduce needle sharing or other harmful behaviors.

Poverty fuels the epidemic due to its impact on all aspects of life including income, housing, education, nutrition, access to health care and the list goes on. In the African-American communities where poverty rates are even higher there exists a greater gap in all of these areas that fuel the inability to negotiate, feel empowered, get educated on HIV and get tested.

Let's be real, if I can't afford my next meal or next month's rent, do you think I'm going to make a big deal about using condoms? Because the man that's taking care of me is taking care of her too. No, I have too much else to deal with.

But there is hope. Many community organizations are now targeting these communities to conduct HIV testing and connect those who test positive, or are lost to care, to medical treatment. Even though we cannot always directly impact the poverty levels in these communities, we can impact the availability of testing and education resources.

Ingrid Floyd is the executive director of Iris House in New York City.

View the full feature, "What Really Fuels the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Black America?"

More From This Resource Center

Magic Johnson Wants You to Know: He Isn't Cured of HIV

Living With HIV? African Americans Share Their Advice

This article was provided by TheBody.

See Also's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
HIV and Me: An African American's Guide to Living With HIV
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More Views on HIV Prevention in the African-American Community

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Joe (Louisiana) Sun., Jul. 10, 2016 at 1:10 am UTC
Poverty is easy to eradicate. The Pew center did a study and said that if you do these three things, you have less than a 2% chance of living in poverty. They are: Graduate high school, work full time, and wait till you are married to have children. Easy!! Black parents need to emphasize these things to their children regardless of whether or not they followed the guidelines. Each generation should encourage the next to exceed their own accomplishments.
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Comment by: Robert Johnson (Phila. Pa.) Wed., May. 18, 2016 at 1:25 pm UTC
Bad story. In the heat of the night people make bad choices. Our Black communities are messed up, and the government can't fix us. Only we can.
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Comment by: William Brand (Humble Tx) Wed., Apr. 13, 2016 at 5:20 am UTC
If you can't afford to marry you have many short term partners whose children you can't afford to support. It also results in VD. The best way to avoid VD is monogamy but economics says don't marry and don't support children.
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Comment by: susan (st. louis) Sun., Sep. 20, 2015 at 11:28 am UTC
hiv is not spread by poverty. Everyone has free will in behavior.
If you chose be savior that spreads hiv, how sad. Not all people in poverty stay in poverty. Money or transfer of wealth to groups has been failing, obviously.
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Comment by: Charlie (Granger, IN) Fri., Jan. 30, 2015 at 8:29 am UTC
What fuels AIDS/HIV is sex. It is not poverty or anything else, it is sex. When I was brought up we were taught that sex is right/correct ONLY within the confines of marriage. This was taught to both the boys and the girls. When the first line of defense (boys) yielded, the second line of defense usually did not, and babies and disease were prevented. Although this was not perfect, it is one heck of a lot better than what we have now. Now it is permissible to have all the sex (of any kind with anyone in or out of marriage) and look at the problems we have with poverty, children having children, disease, and the list goes on. The article wants us to think the problem starts elsewhere, but the real problem, and where it all starts, is sex.
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Comment by: Gary Stoltzfus (Hickory NC) Mon., Dec. 29, 2014 at 1:01 pm UTC
This may be the most ridiculous article I have ever read. It reflects the absolute denial of real facts that way too many of our black communities live with. To take true facts about poverty. social conditions and other issues the exist in these communities and apply them as central issues to hide the undeniable fault of the gay community in primarily spreading this disease, is irresponsible and is the real reason that these communities are unable to deal with the problems they face.
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Comment by: James (Miami Florida) Mon., Dec. 8, 2014 at 7:27 pm UTC
Ever heard of May Widows.
A culture thing. Check it out then you know why.
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Comment by: Bevis (Charleston, sc) Sat., Aug. 30, 2014 at 8:37 pm UTC
Free birth control i.e. the pill is encouraging non condom use. Plus the low marriage rate and poor education statistics , the thug hip-hop life style all contribute to this super high rate of infection .
All gratis the welfare state !
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Comment by: Ruth Gibson (Miramar Beach, Florida) Tue., May. 27, 2014 at 6:01 pm UTC
Comparing poverty rates between blacks and whites is racist. Why not compare poverty rates between high school graduates and non high school graduates?
Why not compare HIV rates between high school graduates and non high school graduates? This might be more telling than race.
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Comment by: Justice4who (Hinesville, GA) Tue., Oct. 16, 2012 at 11:25 am UTC
What about HIV around the world? Oh, yeah what about HIV in White America? This is not just a black community problem it reaches into all races.
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Comment by: *enchante* (San francisco CA) Tue., Oct. 9, 2012 at 7:39 pm UTC
Its crazy: how come there are so many cases? Other places have a high rate of poverty too and not have this problem. I believe the 'black church' needs to have more talks about abstanance starting at 10 years old, since there are no real children
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Comment by: Kid Pizazz (Chicago, IL) Tue., Jul. 17, 2012 at 3:05 am UTC
I respect the earnestness and the true social concern of the panel trying to come to grips with this tragic situation. In the early 80s when aids reared it destructive head, it was perceived as mostly a Gay affliction and their deaths were viewed by most average folks as a tough stuff, you reap what you sow scenario. Compassion? Oh Please! With HIV being see as an urban inner city affliction, I can assure one and all, black or white, liberal or conservative, soft or hard that Nobody, and I do mean Nobody could even give a sweet damn! Sorry! Life is what life is!
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