Seven of the eight census tracts in the state with the lowest life expectancies are in our region, according to National Center for Health Statistics data. North Texas areas included in the lowest life expectancies include a portion of downtown Wichita Falls, near the Hospital District in Fort Worth, the historic Tenth Street Historic District, areas of South Dallas near Fair Park, and east Oak Cliff.
The lowest life expectancy census tracts are due to a couple different factors. The neighborhoods are either high poverty areas with low social determinants fo health, such as Tenth Street or neighborhoods near Fair Park, or areas with a large concentration of hospitals, such as a census tract in central Wichita Falls and the Fort Worth Medical District, which occupy the top two spots in the state.
The hospital districts’ life expectancies are not a black mark on the hospitals or their neighborhoods themselves, but are rather indicators that a large number of people whose addresses can’t be determined are dying at a young age there. These are likely people experiencing homelessness who are attributed to each hospital’s census tract. The concentration of hospitals in Fort Worth and Wichita Falls make the areas statistically significant.
The impact of social determinants of health has long been documented, and where a person lives can statistically take decades off of life expectancy in Dallas. Dallas’ basement-dwelling health insurance rate is also a factor. It highlights the massive disparity in North Texas, an area known more for exponential growth than low health outcomes, though both exist.
The two worst places for life expectancy are the Wichita Falls census tract, with a life expectancy of 60.7, and the Fort Worth Medical District at 62.8. The neighborhood around the 10th Street Historic District, one of the few remaining original Freedmen’s Towns in the county, has the third worst life expectancy in the state at 64.2. The area was founded by freed slaves after the Civil War in one of the fee areas African American’s could own land, and has seen a number of demolitions and vacancies over the years. But there are no hospitals in the tract that might bring down the average, meaning the life expectancy is low because of other social determinants such as environmental factors, crime, and nutrition.
A neighborhood along Malcolm X Boulevard in South Dallas, one just southeast of Fair Park, and another area in east Oak Cliff near the intersection of Illinois and Marsalis round out the areas in the state with the lowest life expectancy, with totals of 65.5 to 65.9 years.
Just miles away, the census tract that runs along Hillcrest Avenue and straddles Lovers Lane has a life expectancy of 86.4 years, more than two decades higher than Tenth Street’s.
Organizations all over the state and country are attempting to address social determinants of health, ranging from providing nutritious meals to holistic care, providing transportation, and working toward health food options, but for the residents of these areas, it might be too late.