Story at a glance

  • The federal minimum wage has held steady at a measly $7.25 per hour since 2009, but many states have raised their minimum wages on their own.
  • This allowed researchers to examine the public health impacts of increased hourly wages, and, in particular, America's rising suicide rate.
  • The study found that even a small increase in the minimum wage was accompanied by a reduction in the suicide rate, suggesting poverty alleviation is an important strategy when it comes to public health.

Raising the minimum wage by just $1 per hour could lower suicide rates between 3.5 percent and 5.9 percent among those with a high school education or less, according to a new study.

Researchers estimated that an extra dollar an hour could have prevented almost 14,000 suicides after the Great Recession, Business Insider reported Wednesday.

Suicide is on the rise as a cause of death in the United States, increasing 33 percent in prevalence from 1999 through 2017. To examine the relationship between suicide and hourly pay, the researchers compared the effects of 478 changes in state minimum wages from 1990 to 2015. Though the federal minimum wage hasn’t changed since 2009, states are able to make changes on their own.

The researchers found a correlation between increased wages and lower suicide rates, an effect that was strongest during periods of high unemployment.

"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," the authors wrote.

Increasing the minimum wage has emerged as a prominent issue in the 2020 presidential race, with many Democratic candidates proposing an increase of the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15. The recent findings suggest that such a change could help reduce the number of suicides by lifting more Americans out of poverty, but other studies have estimated it could also result in a loss of jobs.

Published on Jan 08, 2020