Raising the minimum wage generally harms the health of low-educated, low-income men and improves the health of women in the same demographics, a Maine university finds. study.

Income-based health disparities have worsened in recent decades in the United States, according to a extensive 2019 study using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Low-income people typically experience higher rates of mortality, morbidity, and health-risk behaviors, as well as reduced access to health care.

Previous studies have shown that social and economic policies — like raising the minimum wage, which has caught the attention of the public and legislators in the United States — can improve health, especially among low-income populations. In 2019, 25 states and the District of Columbia raised their minimum wages, up from just eight states in 2011. Several states have enacted laws to phase in a $15 minimum wage over the next few years.

Although economists studying minimum wage have historically focused on outcomes such as employment and hours worked, a growing number of studies are exploring the relationship between minimum wage and health. However, previous studies have typically used data from the 1990s to 2014. Consequently, little is known about the impact of the minimum wage on health in the post-Great Recession era, although a number of trends emerge. have intensified since the 2010s which may impact the relationship between income and health. For example, the Affordable Care Act expanded health coverage for low-income people and the “digital divide” narrowed (thereby widening access to health information), but economic mobility deteriorated and affordable housing has become scarce.

A team of researchers from the University of Maine used data from 2011 to 2019 from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, a large annual telephone survey in which respondents rate their overall health on a five-point scale. dots and indicate the number of days in the last month. they had poor physical or mental health.

The researchers compared these measures to changes in the minimum wage. Using data from the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research and the U.S. Department of Labor, the study identified 152 nominal effective minimum wage increases in the United States during the sample period. .

The study found that a 10% increase in the minimum wage – about $0.72, based on the average level of the minimum wage over the sample period – improved women’s overall health and reduced their health burdens. physical and mental health. However, the results for men were more complicated. While higher minimum wages increased men’s physical and mental health burdens, the effect on men’s general health was ambiguous.

“We are delighted to contribute to this important and growing area of ​​research. With such interest in minimum wage policy at all levels of government, we hope our work can inform decision-making in a positive way. By using more recent data that better reflects the current state of the economy, our study is a strong complement to the existing literature on this topic,” says Liam Sigaud, a recent graduate of the University of Maine and lead author of the study.

Researchers have offered several explanations for the disparities between the health impacts of minimum wage increases on men and women. Women are more likely to be affected by minimum wage changes; they represent 65% of “low-wage” workers. Men and women in low-paying jobs also often face different workplace stressors and risks. Among workers in jobs with median weekly earnings below $600, 4% of men and 11% of women work in health care support occupations, while 16% of men and 8% of women work in occupations related to natural resources, construction and maintenance.

Moreover, to the extent that higher minimum wages induce job losses for men, the increased mental health burden for men is consistent with research that they are more likely than women to have poor mental health during periods of unemployment. Men are also more likely than women to use substances, so the increase in men’s mental health burden may be linked to an increase in alcohol or drug use.

“While our study hints at possible pathways, we still don’t know much about why higher minimum wages affect men’s and women’s health differently. It is likely a complicated mix of factors related to family roles, career choices and behaviors that differ by gender. We hope that future work can elucidate these mechanisms. As the data and quantitative tools to explore these questions constantly improve, we will have better insights,” says Sigaud.

While further study is needed to unravel these nuances, this study contributes to a more up-to-date and holistic understanding of minimum wage policy. Comparisons with previous studies reveal changes in the relationship between the minimum wage and health over time. The results illustrate the need for policy makers to consider outcomes beyond employment when deciding whether a minimum wage change is appropriate. It is also clear that minimum wage increases do not affect everyone in the same way, which has important implications for health and gender differences in society.

“As applied economists, examining the real impact of public policies is at the heart of our work. The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need to better understand health disparities by income and how government policies can help mitigate them. Our results demonstrate that raising the minimum wage involves trade-offs between men’s and women’s health. Finding the right balance requires value judgment; there is no definitive correct answer. We hope our work will inform the thinking of policy makers when considering changes to the minimum wage,” says Sigaud.

Contact: Sam Schipani, [email protected]