$1 Minimum Wage Increase Tied to Reduction of Suicide Rates

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Source: Tim Forster, “Trump’s Labor Department Just Made It Harder for Fast Food Workers to Sue Corporations,” eater.com, Apr. 2, 2019

Raising the minimum wage $1 was linked to a 3.4% to 5.9% decrease in suicide rates among adults age 18-64 with a high school education or less, according to a Jan. 3, 2020 report published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The researchers studied monthly data from 1990 to 2015 from all 50 states and DC. They found increases in minimum wages had the biggest impact on lowering suicide rates when unemployment rates were high, while the highest suicide rates were linked with high unemployment and minimum wages at or below the federal rate.

The researchers estimated that 27,550 suicides among people age 18-64 with no more than a high school education could have been prevented between 1990 and 2015 if the minimum wage had been raised $1, while 57,350 suicides could have been prevented with a $2 raise.

Report authors concluded, “While suicide represents the most extreme and salient indicator of despair, it is preceded by depression and a suicide attempt, outcomes which we did not study and for which data are less reliable or complete. Depression and suicide attempts are much more common than completed suicides. If a causal relationship exists between minimum wage increases and suicide reductions, we would anticipate that depression rates and suicide attempts overall will decrease with an increased minimum wage. Depression rates in the USA are higher among demographic groups that are also more likely to work at lower-wage jobs, including women, non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics.”

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. As of Jan. 6, 2020, 32 states and DC have higher minimum wages, with DC at the top with $14. Two states, Georgia and Wyoming, have a lower minimum wage ($5.15) than the federal level, but the higher federal rate applies in those states except in limited cases.

While most of the Democratic 2020 presidential candidates support raising the minimum wage, Andrew Yang would prefer to implement a different policy: “If you were to increase the minimum wage to $15, it would hasten the automation of all these fast food jobs that pay $9… there are all these hardware stores and main street retailers that are just scraping by paying people $9-10 an hour. You take that up to $15 an hour, they are 100 percent going to cut shifts and cut workers. It’s much better just to give everyone $1,000 a month [as Universal Basic Income]. It’s an effective raise of $6 an hour for anyone who’s working full time, it doesn’t come out of the pockets of small businesses.”

Incumbent Republican candidate President Donald Trump also opposes raising the minimum wage, believing that $15/hour would hurt workers and reverse economic progress, according to a July 2019 statement from his administration.

Explore what the other candidates think about raising the minimum wage on the 2020 election site.

Discussion Questions – Things to Think About
1. Should the federal minimum wage be raised? Why or why not?

2. Should other methods of increasing wages, such as a Universal Basic Income, be implemented? Which one(s)? Why or why not?

3. How do you think the minimum wage can affect mental and physical health? Explain your answer.

Sources:

Graison Dangor, “Raising the Minimum Wage by $1 May Prevent Thousands of Suicides, Study Shows,” npr.org, Jan. 8, 2020

Shelby Lin Erdman, “Increasing the Minimum Wage by $1 Could Reduce US Suicide Rates, Study Finds,” cnn.com, Jan. 9, 2020

John A. Kaufman, et al., “Effects of Increased Minimum Wages by Unemployment Rate on Suicide in the USA,” jech.bmj.com, Jan. 3, 2020

Office of Budget and Management, “Executive Office of the President, Statement of Administration Policy: H.R. 582 – Raise the Wage Act,” whitehouse.gov, July 15, 2019