$1 Increase in Minimum Wage Drops US Suicide Rate By Up to 6%: 26-Year Study
Mon, April 19, 2021

$1 Increase in Minimum Wage Drops US Suicide Rate By Up to 6%: 26-Year Study

Increasing the minimum wage to $1 has been found to drop the suicide rate in the US between 3.5 and 6% among adults with a high school education or less / Photo by: Bartolomiej Pietrzyk via 123RF

 

Increasing the minimum wage to $1 has been found to drop the suicide rate in the US between 3.5 and 6% among adults with a high school education or less. This is based on a study that recently appeared in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.


Economic Interventions to Suicide

Suicide is a major cause of death in the US, authors John A. Kaufman from the Department of Epidemiology at Emory University and colleagues explained. Often, the act of intentionally taking one’s own life is linked with financial stressors that may be caused by job loss, financial hardship, or debt. However, less is known about how economic interventions can help reduce the risk factors.

In their study, the researchers also noted that depression and suicide disproportionately affect people with lower incomes and lower educational attainment. People who have less education are more likely to work at an establishment that provides them near minimum wage.

Suicide is a major cause of death in the US, authors John A. Kaufman from the Department of Epidemiology at Emory University and colleagues explained. Often, the act of intentionally taking one’s own life is linked with financial stressors that may be caused by job loss, financial hardship, or debt / Photo by: magiceyes via 123RF


The 26-year Study

For their study, Kaufman and the team looked at the difference between the federal and state minimum hourly wage for 50 states as well as in Washington DC. They also looked at the suicide and unemployment rates among 18- to 64-year-olds for each month from 1990 to 2015. Their 26-year study found 478 changes in the minimum wage rate of the state across US states. At the start of their study, 36 US states had the same minimum wage to the federal rate. By 2015, the rate declined to 21 states.

During the 26-year timeframe, 399,206 adults with high school education or less committed suicide compared to the 140,176 who earned a college degree or higher. This led them to an estimate of 3.5 to 6% fall in the suicide rate for every $1 increase in the minimum wage among 18 to 64 workers. However, no effect was found among those who earned a college degree or higher.

The Spillover Effects of Increasing the Minimum Wage

Since the groups with low educational attainment in the US experience a high unemployment rate, the spillover effects of increasing the minimum wage was evidenced in them. Their estimates also showed that the unemployment rate in 2009 was high after the great recession. Yet, 13,800 suicides could have been prevented between that year to 2015 if an increase of $1 to the minimum wage of people ages 18 to 64 was made. A $2 increase could have likewise prevented 25,900 suicides.

The team pointed out that their study is only observational, thus they cannot establish the cause. Yet, the results of their study are consistent with the belief that policies can help reduce the risk of suicide, particularly policies meant to improve the livelihoods of people who attained less education and who work at lower wages.

They believe that increasing the minimum wage rate creates “potential protective effects” during tough times, like when unemployment is high.

In a 2017 study titled “Influence of Unemployment on Mental Health of the Working Age Population,” researchers highlighted that a lack of work opportunities, job loss, and job insecurity makes unemployment a serious public concern in the country. Their study focused on the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country in the Balkans (southeastern Europe), as it has one of the highest unemployment rates compared to other regions in the Balkan. The results of the study revealed that unemployed people were more likely to experience stress, have depressive symptoms, and have lower well-being than people who are employed. Unemployment also increases the mortality risk for those who are in their middle or early careers but less among those who are in their late-career.

Since the groups with low educational attainment in the US experience a high unemployment rate, the spillover effects of increasing the minimum wage was evidenced in them / Photo by: Gundula Vogel via 123RF

 

Suicide: Statistics

The World Health Organization (WHO) shares that nearly 800,000 people die every year due to suicide and for every suicide case, there are many more who attempt to take their own lives. The single most important risk factor of suicide is a prior suicide attempt.

To relate the findings of Kaufman and colleagues, WHO published that 79% of global suicide happens in middle- and low-income countries in 2016. The most common methods of suicide are firearms, hanging, and ingestion of pesticides. The suicide rate is also high in groups that experience discrimination, such as the LGBTI community, migrants, prisoners, and refugees.

It is a “serious health problem” but is preventable with evidence-based, low-cost, and timely interventions. Only a few nations to date have considered suicide prevention as a health priority and only 38 countries have a national strategy for suicide prevention.

Economic Crisis Affecting Mental Health

The World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world, moreover states that an economic recession and banking crisis have social costs. An increase in the unemployment rate is linked to 45,000 or one in five suicides worldwide.

Economic crises and recessions do have a negative impact on people’s health. Governments of different countries should create solutions to unemployment. This will not only stimulate healthy economic growth but also promote the citizens’ well-being and mental health.