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Can a higher minimum wage save lives by reducing suicides?

by Ace Damon
Can a higher minimum wage save lives by reducing suicides?

Could an increase in the minimum wage save American lives and prolong them in the process?

The answer seems to be yes.

New search reveals that when US states raised the minimum wage by a single dollar, suicide rates fell among residents clustered around the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder.

And the higher the unemployment rate, the stronger the bond. When a state's unemployment rate reached 6.5 percent, a $ 1 increase in the minimum wage was followed by an approximately 6 percent drop in the suicide rate among working-age adults with a high school education or less – in other countries. words, among those who work in minimum wage jobs.

But even in periods of low unemployment, when the unemployment rate dropped to 3 percent, suicides still dropped 3.5 percent among the least educated after their states mandated a $ 1 an hour minimum wage increase.

The team found no link between raising the minimum wage and suicide among Americans with a college degree.

The 26-year study offers new evidence that the link between income and mental health is powerful. And it reinforces the argument that policies that support the income of low-wage workers can save lives for those living on paycheck.

O findings were published this week in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

"It's important to know that there are levers that we can pull at the social level to improve people's well-being," said study leader John Kaufman, a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at Emory University School of Public Health in Atlanta. Since for every complete suicide in the US there are almost 30 attempts, a pay raise is likely to improve the mental health of a larger population than the study could show, he said.

Brookings Institution owns calculated 53 million Americans ages 18-64 – 44% of all US workers – qualify as "low wages." These employees receive an average hourly wage of $ 10.22, which is higher than the federal minimum wage of $ 7.25 ($ 2.13 for tipping workers) but lower than the generally accepted "salary”In many regions. And your average annual salary is about $ 18,000.

Fourteen states have the same minimum wage as the federal government and seven have a minimum – or none – minimum. In recent years, 15 states have acted to raise their minimum wage over the next two to three years, and nine others have made these increases automatic or linked to increases in the cost of living. (California's minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $ 15 by 2023.)

The new study suggests that paying low-wage workers an extra buck an hour could not only save lives but slow the recent decline in US life expectancy. If the federal minimum wage had been increased by $ 1 after 2009, when Great Recession unemployment peaked, the suicides of 13,800 working adults with 12 or fewer years of schooling could have been prevented in subsequent years, the researchers calculated. A $ 2 per hour walk may have prevented 29,500 of these suicides by 2015, they say.

This is important because suicide rates among working-age adults increased by 38.3% between 1999 and 2017, from 13.4 to 18.6 per 100,000 people. This dramatic increase, coupled with the increase in fatal drug overdoses and other substance-related deaths, has caused US life expectancy to fall for three consecutive years.

Researchers increasingly realize a connection between these dark trends. These so-called deaths of despair were most evident in communities drained of economic vibration by the loss of jobs in industry and other businesses that offered a path to the middle class without a college degree.

"The American dream did not come true and expectations were not met for these workers," said Rutgers University sociologist Julie Phillips, which documented a link between minimum wage and suicide during the great recession.

While Phillips and his colleagues found that suicides increased among Americans across the spectrum of schooling, they were clearly higher for those without a college degree – and their rates steadily increased between 2000 and 2014.

Findings like these "show the vulnerability of the less educated" to feelings of despair, said Phillips, who was not involved in the new work.

Many recent studies have established an association between income support and better health outcomes, but not a causal link. Some important reports were helpful in demonstrating that raising the income of low-wage workers was the most likely explanation for subsequent improvements in their health.

In recent years, economists and public health researchers have found that minimum wage increases have been followed by higher birth weights among low-wage or low-skilled workers' babies. lower rates of child neglect and abuse, which can be corrosive to long term health.

Other studies have suggested that increases in the minimum wage quit smoking among low-paid women and reduce the number of sick days taken by workers, especially low-wage workers.

AN study released in April found an immediate reduction in suicides after a 10% increase in the minimum wage. And a 10 percent increase in states' accumulated tax credit – a year-end tax incentive that boosts the income of low-wage families – had a similar but delayed effect: suicides fell after families saw their income increase. family income.

“Does money make a difference? Definitely, ”said Michael Reich, UC Berkeley economist who studies how desperate deaths are linked to income. “Many people in this country are earning very little and are fighting every month to survive. Their lives are very stressful. They are responding to the latest crisis and this is not a great context for parenting – or mental health. "

Not all economists agree that a higher minimum wage helps workers. Some research has found that when the minimum wage increases, the hours and employment of low-wage workers decrease, making them worse. Restaurant owners, business groups, and chambers of commerce often oppose mandatory pay increases as job killers.

As a candidate and in office, President Trump promised to "massively increase" workers' wages. Launching his reelection offer in June, Trump stated that American workers' wages "are rising faster in many decades". Although he said he would consider an increase in the federal minimum wage, his congressional allies opposed him.

Meanwhile, more than 47,000 Americans committed suicide in 2017, the last year for which reliable statistics are available.

That year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “Technical Package of Policies, Programs and Practices”To help communities and states improve their suicide prevention strategies. The first of these is "strengthening economic support," including strengthening the financial security of families with "sustainable wages."

The last time Congress raised the federal minimum wage was in 2009.

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