Suicide deaths have increased sharply over the last 20 years — nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2016. But researchers may have found an effective way to alter the direction through one simple policy change: raising the minimum wage. A change of as much as $1 per hour could make a dramatic difference in the suicide rate.
A study conducted by UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health used data on state minimum wages and suicide rates for all 50 states between 2006 and 2016, The Associated Press reported. The study found that increases in state minimum wages in recent years have been associated with decreases in suicide rates.
The research was published last month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“Our study found that when a state increased its minimum wage, the suicide rate increased less than in other states and other times,” Alex Gertner, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student at Gillings, told The Associated Press. “It’s possible that increasing the minimum wage improves life satisfaction, increases access to healthcare and decreases mental illness, which all lead to fewer suicide deaths.”
“U.S. workers’ real wages have barely increased in decades, and they enjoy fewer labor protections than workers in other wealthy countries,” Gertner told the AP. “Most of health is determined by social conditions, rather than use of healthcare services. Policies that improve financial security may have a key role to play in reversing worsening trends in suicides in the U.S.”
Once considered, it seems obvious, doesn’t it? Money can’t solve every problem, but it’s the grease that smooths the wheels in our society. Having enough to stave off hunger, health problems and other effects of poverty allows us to function more fully. Not having enough — coupled with problems like failed relationships and substance abuse — can contribute to feelings of despair and hopelessness.
The UNC study echoes conclusions reached by other researchers.
A recent working paper circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research recommends raising the earned-income tax credit, which was designed to boost the wages of low-income workers, particularly families with children, along with raising the minimum wage, by 10 percent. Doing so could prevent about 1,230 suicides annually, according to the paper.
A team working with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention concluded that raising the minimum wage and increasing the tax credit helps the less-educated, low-wage workers who have been hit hardest by what are now known as “deaths of despair” — deaths attributed to “drug overdoses, suicides, and alcohol-related liver mortality — particularly among those with a high school degree or less.”
It seems that giving people more financial resources in even an incremental way can provide them with enough hope to keep going.
Everyone wants to feel as if they’re achieving something in life; as if their hard work is getting them somewhere. But when they fail to obtain the expected rewards — when they struggle with crippling debt, or suffer health problems they can’t afford to solve, or see no future for their children — they can despair.
Some on the left have been talking about wealth inequality for some time — the tendency for the vast majority of wealth creation to be awarded to those at the top of the economic ladder rather than shared more equitably. The United States exhibits wider disparities of wealth between rich and poor than any other major developed nation. Note that this is a fairly recent development — it hasn’t always been this way. Nor has the suicide rate always been this high.
Many on the right are aware of the problem, too. People across the political spectrum, working together, are needed to urge our legislators to support a culture of fairness and respect for labor.
Achieving the proper rewards for a hard day’s work — a living wage — shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Especially since it can be a matter of life and death.