Study Shows Even $1 Minimum Wage Increase Reduces Suicides

Raising the minimum wage will not just help the economy.

It will not just help lift people out of poverty or prevent some from descending into it.

According to a Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health study, raising the minimum wage by a single dollar can prevent suicides.

Tens of thousands of suicides the past 25 years could have been prevented had wages been higher during periods of widespread unemployment.

A dollar could have saved 27,000 lives.

A two-dollar increase could have saved 57,000.

Emory University epidemiology doctoral student and the study’s lead author, John Kaufman, stated:

“This is a way that you can, it seems, improve the well-being of people working at lower-wage jobs and their dependents.”

Kaufman said the study focused on less-educated adults due to their tendency to work minimum-wage jobs and their increased risk of depression and suicide.

According to the study:

“Our findings are consistent with the notion that policies designed to improve the livelihoods of individuals with less education, who are more likely to work at lower wages and at higher risk for adverse mental health outcomes, can reduce the suicide risk in this group. Our findings also suggest that the potential protective effects of a higher minimum wage are more important during times of high unemployment.”

Kaufman added:

“During periods of high unemployment, people are more willing to work at lower-wage jobs, and those lower-wage jobs are going to be the ones that have increased pay if there’s an increase in minimum wage. Those jobs become more valuable both to the people working and to their dependents and their families, compared to times when the economy is doing well.”

The study goes on to note:

“Though the federal minimum hourly wage increased from $3.80 in 1990 to $7.25 in 2015, adjusting for inflation reveals essentially no change, and since the 1968 peak the inflation-adjusted minimum wage has decreased; currently, 29 individual states and Washington, D.C. have raised their minimum wages, while 21 maintain the lower federal minimum.”

Dr. Alexander Tsai, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital, confirms this is the third study in under a year producing the same conclusion.

One of those studies, from the National Bureau of Economic Research, shows raising the minimum wage 10 percent reduces suicides 3.6 percent among high school-educated adults.

A 10-percent raise in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal low-income subsidy, reduces suicides among the same group by 5.5 percent.

John Kaufman’s study, however, is the first to discover the correlation between wage hikes and suicide during economic downturns.

Tsai estimates most of the 30 studies linking raises to better health outcomes were published in the past five years.

Kaufman recognizes lawmakers’ vital role in creating a social safety net that keeps people from experiencing the economic hardships contributing to suicides.

He explained:

“It’s important to realize there are population-level interventions like these policies that can actually have an impact on the suicide rate. If the relationship that we see is a cause-and-effect relationship, then if you want to reduce suicide risk among people with less education, this might be one way to do it.”

The study notes:

“While the minimum wage can serve as a population health intervention, it is important for society to provide other buffers between financial status and health, so that low education and economic insecurity do not increase the risk of mental illness and death.”

In July, House Democrats passed H.R. 582/S. 150, the “Raise the Wage Act,” increasing the raise the federal minimum wage to $15 from its current $7.25.

With 205 co-sponsors, it seeks to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2024, giving a raise to roughly 40 million Americans.

Based on an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis, the legislation would lift pay for nearly 40 million workers—26.6 percent of the workforce; allow year-round workers to earn an extra $3,000 a year, ”enough to make a difference in the life of a preschool teacher, bank teller, or fast-food worker who today struggles to get by on around $20,000 a year”; and generate $120 billion in higher wages.

The day the bill passed the House, Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) to allow the Senate to vote on its own companion bill.

Sen. Sanders tweeted:

He added:

“Today I am proud to say that a $15 minimum wage has gone from laughable to inevitable.”

He then challenged McConnell to “bring my $15 an hour legislation to the floor for a vote as soon as possible,” explaining:

“If Senator McConnell wants to vote against that bill and explain to the people of Kentucky why he believes a $7.25 minimum wage is acceptable to him that is his prerogative. But he should not deny the rest of the Senate the opportunity to vote for this bill and increase wages for 40 million Americans. No one who has a job in America should be living in poverty. Let the Senate vote.”

Mitch McConnell, the self-described “Grim Reaper,” has vowed to kill bills he unilaterally deems “socialist legislation.”

No wonder when it is his Republican party led by the Trump administration that announced in December it formalized work requirements for 36 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)–i.e., food stamps–recipients, leaving 700,000 Americans at risk of losing the safety net they have relied on to feed themselves and their families.

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.