Minimum Wage Increase May Reduce US Suicide Rate

A $1 increase in state-level minimum wage appears to attenuate suicide rates by more than 5% among workers with a high school degree or less, according to the findings of a recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Suicide stands as a major cause of death plaguing the US. In 2017, there were more than 47,100 preventable suicide deaths; with suicide accounting for almost 20% of deaths among young adults ages 18-24 and 11% of deaths in adults ages 25-44. The study noted that suicide often stems from financial stressors such as job loss and debt, with suicide and depression disproportionately affecting people with lower education and income levels.

In fact, while the life expectancy of the richest 20% of Americans has gone up over the last three decades, the poorest 20% of the population have experienced a drop in expected life years. According to the research authors: “Minimum wage increases may be one intervention to reduce income-based disparities in life expectancy, including from suicide.”

To conduct this study, the researchers investigated the differences between the effective state and federate minimum hourly wage for each month from 1990 to 2015 in all 50 states and Washington, DC among for adults aged 18-64 based on the legislative bill that made that wage effective as law, and this study measure lagged by one year. Subsequently, they used an unlagged metric to estimate the immediate effects of policy change on such factors as inflation adjustment by expressing all minimum wage variables in 2015 US dollars. To appraise predicted suicide rates under different minimum wage scenarios, the researchers assessed the effects of minimum wage modification on the state-level going by unemployment rates.

Policy Change Can Save Lives

The researchers observed that were 478 changes in minimum wage between 1990-2015, and for state-months with a minimum wage above that of the federal, the average wage increase was $1.10. They estimated that for every $1.00 increase in state-level wages there was a 6% reduction in suicides among adults with less than a high school education in the 18-64 age range (rate ratio=0.941; 95% CI, 0.898 to 0.986). They noted that as postulated, no effect was observed on suicides among people with college degrees.

Moreover, the results showed that for the lagged metric, there was 4.4% decrease (rate ratio=0.956; 95% CI, 0.925 to 0.988) per dollar minimum wage increase among those with a high school education or lower. Furthermore, when controlling for state-specific economic variables, they estimated a 3.5% reduction in the suicide rate for every additional dollar increase (rate ratio=0.964; 95% CI, 0.934 to 0.995).

The study authors wrote in their conclusion that: “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.”

They added that the results “also suggest that the potential protective effects of a higher minimum wage are more important during times of high unemployment. 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.”