Fewer than 20 miles separate Dallas communities with the lowest and highest life expectancy

In the shadow of the skyscrapers of downtown Dallas and just yards from the Trinity River and Interstate 35E, you’ll find the 10th Street Historic District and The Bottom, the lowest life expectancy count in Dallas County.

A resident here can only live to be an average of 64.2 years old, according to an analysis by the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation, which is based on census data.

Of the population in this census, 50.9% are Hispanic, 44.7% are black, and 14.2% are white.

About 20 miles away, in a census district in the city of Richardson that makes up The Reservation and JJ Pearce, residents live an average of 86.5 years, the longest life expectancy in Dallas County.

In this area of ​​Richardson, 77.4% of the population are white, 10.6% are Asian, and 6.2% are Hispanic.

The factors behind this inequality are many and complex, and access to health care is only a small part of the equation, says Gül Seçkin, a specialist in medical sociology at the University of North Texas.

Seçkin said that health outcomes in a population depend not only on individual decisions, but also on socio-economic factors that explain the more than two decades difference in life expectancy between two communities in the same county.

Three of the most important factors are income differences, access to health care and the nature of the job, she said. But there are other not-too-obvious factors as well.

“Even simple things like vacation, time off from work, several jobs, life in unsafe neighborhoods, the quality of the air or the soil or the living situation,” said Seçkin. “The accumulation of all these factors over a long period of time leads to these differences in life expectancy.”

A stressed community

None of this comes as a surprise to residents of areas with poor health outcomes.

“The community here has been broken for so many years and we have been neglected,” said Patricia Cox, president of the Residents Association of the 10th Street Historic District.

“There are no shops nearby, no clinics, no hospitals, crime is rampant and we are facing gentrification. We are very stressed, “she said.

The 10th Street Historic District is part of Oak Cliff. It was originally an African American community that was settled by some slaves who came with the white settlers from the Dallas area in the 1840s.

Years after the abolition of slavery, the first freedmen city in North Texas was established there.

After years of changes in the area, including building highways and demolishing dozens of homes, Cox said the 10th Street Historic District was moving from a thriving community of shops, churches, workshops, and clean streets to a deserted high crime area has become. littered streets, uncut courtyards and dilapidated houses. Developers are now looking to buy because of its proximity to downtown, just 3 miles north.

“We have lived with this inequality for centuries,” says Cox, who was born in this neighborhood in 1943 and returned to California in 2006 to take care of her mother.

“Here lived those who were abused and exploited. It doesn’t seem to have changed, ”she said.

Cox has exceeded average life expectancy in this area. She is 77, her mother died at the age of 93, not from an illness, but from a fall that injured her head.

Although Cox is diabetic and has heart problems, she believes that the diet she has been on all her life – no meat and animal fat – saved her from worse consequences.

In recent years, however, as she has taken on a larger role as an advocate for her community, diabetes has taken its toll. She has lost 40 pounds in the past year due to the disease.

During the day, the streets in the 10th Street Historic District look empty with very few people walking on them or spending time on their porches or in their front gardens.

Neighbors only see each other when they go to work or when they return home to rest. In 2018, the median household income for the region was $ 25,385 a year, less than half the median for Dallas County, according to data from the Census Bureau.

There are no noteworthy grocery stores nearby. The same goes for dollar stores or even bus or DART stations.

If you don’t have a car, you have to walk at least a mile to the next public transport line.

If they need something from the grocery store, they need to walk 2.5 miles, or about 40 minutes, to get to Supermercado Monterrey, the closest in the area, on the other side of I-35E.

There are also no emergency clinics nearby. The closest healthcare provider to go is the Methodist Dallas Medical Center, about 2 miles away.

Dallas Police Department data shows this is an area where crime is high. So far this year there have been reports of 11 thefts from retail stores and commercial buildings, 10 stolen vehicles, five armed robberies, three armed robberies and two burned vehicles in the area.

Cox is retired using Medicare. She makes her co-payments conveniently and receives her diabetes medication on time.

Abel González, 59, who lives in the same neighborhood, has a harder time getting medical care.

González has had a broken stomach for the past few years, but it wasn’t until last summer that it stopped him from working in construction, a job he’s been doing since arriving in Dallas in 1979 from Durango, Mexico.

“I knew I had it, but I never looked for care because it was either that or the food out of my children’s mouth,” said González.

“I had to decide whether I wanted to do checkups or see the doctor or feed my children.”

González, a father of six children between the ages of 9 and 18, has been unemployed since July and helps pay his household expenses with his federal child allowance.

Now he gets unemployment benefits, but only earns half what he used to when he had a job.

With the loss of his job, González also lost his health insurance. So he went to Parkland Hospital for an operation in mid-December.

“I think we live here less because we are neglected,” said González.

“We are poorer and have many barriers to accessing medical care. So that we are fine here in our neighborhood … we can’t do it alone. “

Seçkin said residents of poor neighborhoods experience stress on all sides – and when you add their financial burdens, it can lead to poorer health.

“It’s like being in a constant survival mode. It gets your body into a fight because you don’t have a chance to relax; you always have problems, “she said.

To the north, just 17 miles away, the longest life expectancy on the Reservation and JJ Pearce in Dallas County have few of these stressors. It has a thriving upper middle class with spacious apartments and manicured lawns.

Front yards are dotted with lounge chairs and playgrounds, and it is common for people of all ages to walk or exercise their dogs.

Kathy and Russell Scott live in a Richardson neighborhood with the highest life expectancy in Dallas County.(Elias Valverde II / employee photographer)

Kathy and Russell Scott, 68 and 64, have lived in the area for 28 years. Russell owns a music school. Kathy works as a secretary at Waterview Christian Church in the same Richardson Ward.

They have never had serious health problems or difficulty getting treatment for the diseases they faced.

“We have always had health insurance through our jobs. And every year we get routine checkups, try to eat healthy and everything is fine, ”said Kathy Scott.

The Scotts also believe that part of their wellbeing depends on the environment in which they live.

“There are places where crime is higher, people don’t know each other, and there is more stress in these people’s eyes,” said Russell Scott.

Richardson police records show this is an area where there is no record of serious crime. So far this year, only three assaults and five business thefts have been reported.

In addition to having access to quality health care, the Scotts have the support of a network of friends and acquaintances who will help them receive better care and make good decisions.

“We’ve both had cataract surgeries and two of our community leaders are doctors, so they told us where to go,” said Russell Scott.

Greg Parks and Lenin Munguía, local ministers at Waterview, said the jobs and lifestyles of people in the area allow for a higher life expectancy than the rest of the county.

“This neighborhood is very stable. People come in, they settle in here, and sometimes they stay for many decades, ”said Parks. “The neighborhood itself is very communal, with a lot of neighborhood contact and many people with religious affiliations.”

“Access to health care is linked to employment. So a community where people have good jobs necessarily has access to better health care, ”said Munguía, who is responsible for the Church’s contact with the Latino community.

However, it is not the highest income area in the county.

According to census data, the median household income for the region in 2018 was $ 114,306. That’s about twice the mean for Dallas Counties, but five census counties in northern Dallas have median household incomes in excess of $ 250,000, according to PCCI.

This area of ​​Richardson is home to a variety of businesses and services.

Real estate agents often speak of the “Starbucks Effect,” where the location of the coffee shops suggests an area of ​​increasing affluence. Unlike the 10th Street Historic District, where the closest Starbucks is 3 miles away in a downtown building, the area where the Scotts live has at least 10 Starbucks locations within 2 miles.

There are also several grocery stores in the area, including some with organic foods like the Sprouts Farmers Market and the Whole Foods Market.

The nearest emergency clinic is just across the street and the nearest major hospital, Medical City Dallas, is 4 miles away.

Seçkin said that while individuals in communities with more economic resources have better overall health, no one is exempt from the risk of chronic illness or health crisis.

The difference is that you can handle it.

“Let’s say if I make six-figure amounts, $ 200,000, $ 300,000, or if I’m a millionaire, it won’t improve my health much if I make more money,” Seçkin said. “But when I make $ 30,000 or $ 40,000, increasing my income makes a difference. That is why our managers have to work to ensure that there are fewer inequalities. “

Seçkin said placing sole responsibility for their health – by simply recommending diet, exercise, or better sleep, for example – misses the point. Communities dealing with inequalities can help individuals make the healthier choices they might want to make and improve health outcomes for all.