Recent studies have shown that even a $1 increase in the minimum wage can drastically lower the suicide rate in the United States.
Printed in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the study focuses on exploring ways to reduce the suicide poll. Surprisingly, the research showed that a mere increase of $1 in the minimum wage can reduce the instances of suicide among the age group of 18 – 64 years, by 3.4 to 5.9 percent.
The study was based on data from the 50 U.S. states from 1990 to 2015, focusing majorly on unemployment, minimum wages and suicide rates. The trend revealed that raising the minimum wage had the greatest impact during the time when unemployment was high, as told by John A Kaufman of Emory University’s Department of Epidemiology.
The results showed a lower suicide rate during periods of high unemployment and a higher minimum wage – $1.75 more than the federal rate. This could’ve been an outcome of numerous unemployment programs by the government, however, could not be assessed from the given data.
According to the statistics quoted by Kashmira Gander, a features writer at Newsweek, “Suicide is a major cause of death in the USA, the authors said, citing research showing rates spiked by 30 percent in half of U.S. states between 1999 to 2017. There were more than 47,100 preventable suicides in 2017, which accounted for 19 percent of deaths among those aged 18 to 24, and 11 percent in the 25 to 44 age bracket. This comes against a backdrop of falling life expectancy in the U.S., with the Rust Belt and Ohio Valley hardest hit.”
Over the years, the most common reason behind a person taking his life has been financial turmoil, joblessness, and debts in particular.
The minimum wage was $3.80 in 1990, which was increased to $7.25 in 2015. However, given the inflation at that time, the increase caused “essentially no change” in terms of per capita earnings. The researchers argued, “since the 1968 peak the inflation-adjusted minimum wage has decreased”.
They further added, “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.”
Kaufman, who’s a co-author of the study and a doctoral student at the university, said, while explaining the possible reasons behind the trends in their research, that it could be because of “combination of improved access to resources, reduced stress from financial burdens, and improved social status (e.g. reduced social class discrimination, or feeling more valued within society).”
He further continued, “As for our finding that minimum wage increases seem to have a larger effect on reducing suicide rates when the unemployment rate is higher, it could be that more people are willing to work at lower wages when unemployment is high, thus these jobs are more valuable than when the economy is doing well.”
Paul Leigh, a teaching fellow at the University of California, Davis, talked about the study saying, “The size of the effect is truly large: $1 increase leads to a 3.4% reduction in suicides. If there are 47,173 suicides then a 3.4 percent reduction would correspond to 1,603 fewer deaths each year”