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June 6, 2000

Off-Premises Liquor Stores Targeted to Poor Urban Blacks

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health have shown that predominantly black, low-income neighborhoods in Baltimore were eight times more likely to have carry-out liquor stores than white or racially integrated neighborhoods. Conversely, in higher-income Baltimore neighborhoods a higher percentage of black residents was not associated with a higher per capita number of off-site liquor stores.

First author Thomas A. LaVeist, PhD, MA, associate professor, Health Policy and Management, the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said, "Our data reveal an intersection of race and income status that places low-income African-American communities at greater risk for alcohol availability through off-premises liquor stores. Such stores have been shown to be an important component of the social infrastructure that destabilizes communities." The study appeared in the June 2000 issue of Social Science & Medicine.

The authors noted that this disproportionate concentration of off-premises liquor outlets is significant in that these stores typically sell alcohol chilled and in larger quantities than in taverns or restaurants (40 and 64 oz. bottles), ready for immediate consumption on a street corner, in a nearby park, or in a motor vehicle -- drinking patterns more likely to result in excessive drinking, public drunkenness, automobile crashes, and physical violence. Some past studies have further suggested that such drinking behaviors in low-income black communities also distort black youths' perceptions of what constitutes an appropriate level of alcohol consumption.

The researchers used U.S. Census data on the racial composition and median income within each of Baltimore's 194 predominantly residential census tracts. They then examined the relationship between a neighborhood's racial composition and median income and its per capita number of licensed liquor stores. They found that less than one quarter of Baltimore's population lived in integrated census tracts (those where between 25 and 74 percent of the population was black). Over 45 percent of the population lived in predominantly black census tracts (75 percent or more black), while 32 percent were living in predominantly white census tracts (24 percent or less black). Median annual incomes for the individual census tracts ranged from $2,660 to $64,976.

The income status and racial composition of a neighborhood were each independently predictive of the per capita number of liquor stores within an area -- both low-income census tracts and predominantly black census tracts had significantly more liquor stores per capita than either more affluent or predominantly white communities. Neighborhoods that were both low-income and predominantly black had even more significant numbers of liquor stores -- up to eight times as many -- compared to other communities. This association between a neighborhood's black population and its per capita number of liquor stores, however, held true only for low-income communities. In higher-income census tracts, a higher percentage of black residents was not associated with a higher number of liquor stores.

The authors acknowledged that further research is needed to definitively determine whether the demand for alcohol in poorer communities is affecting its supply, or whether supply is inducing demand. They cited research on crack cocaine use, however, that indicates that the drug's easy availability does encourage increased use.

In any case, Dr. LaVeist said, "The availability of alcohol in poor black communities is an issue that policy makers, health professionals, clergy, community activists, and other concerned citizens must address in their efforts to reduce alcohol abuse and its effects in African-American communities."

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham @ 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.