The suicide rate decreased up to 6% among people with high school education or less when a state’s minimum wage was increased by $1, according to results of a 26-year study published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
“This study adds to the evidence that economic welfare policies, including minimum wage policies, likely can improve the well-being of people with lower incomes and lower educational attainment in the U.S.,” John A. Kaufman, MPH, a doctoral student in the department of epidemiology at Emory University, told Healio Psychiatry. “That is presumably why such laws exist.”
According to Kaufman and colleagues, although previous research has uncovered a link between suicide and financial stressors such as job loss, debt or financial hardship, little is known about the impact of minimum wage increases or other economic interventions on suicide risk factors. Further, they noted that suicide and depression disproportionately affect those with lower incomes and lower educational attainment.
To measure the potential impact of minimum wage increases on this at-risk population, the researchers used monthly data from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., from 1990 to 2015, and ran difference-in-differences models. They defined treatment and control groups using educational attainment. The exposure was the difference between federal and state minimum wage in U.S. dollars in 2015, defined both by the date the state law went into effect and lagged by 1 year. Kaufman and colleagues included state and year fixed effects in the models, as well as additional state-level covariates to account for state-specific time-varying confounding. They estimated predicted suicide counts under varying minimum wage scenarios and assessed effect modification by the state-level unemployment rate.
The researchers reported that a $1 increase in the minimum wage resulted in a 3.4% decrease (95% CI, 0.4-6.4) to a 5.9% decrease (95% CI, 1.4-10.2) in the suicide rate among adults aged 18 to 64 years with high school education or less. They detected significant effect modification by unemployment rate and noted the largest effects of minimum wage on reducing suicides occurred at higher unemployment levels.
“It is important for everyone, including policymakers and doctors, to realize that upstream societal factors impact mental health,” Kaufman said. “Individual-level behavioral interventions such as antidepressant medication, exercise, counseling and substance use treatment are all important for helping those struggling with mental health issues, but there are other higher-level interventions that may hold promise for improving many lives across our society.” – by Joe Gramigna
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.