The Power of Paychecks: Raising the Minimum Wage to Combat Suicide

A new study suggests that raising the minimum wage could help prevent thousands of suicides across the country every year – even if employees are paid just a dollar more per hour. The exact relationship between the federal minimum wage and suicide rates remains unclear, but this discovery may shape public policy in the years to come.

As a care provider, learn more about why so many Americans are turning to suicide and why low wages may be partly to blame.

The State of Suicide in the U.S.

Suicide rates have been slowly on the rise here in the U.S. There were around 11.6 suicides per 100,000 individuals back in 2008, but that number has risen to just over 14 per 100,000 people as of 2017. It’s currently the 10th leading cause of death in the country; 48,344 Americans died from suicide in 2018 alone. Rates tend to be highest among white adults between 45 and 54 years of age. Middle-aged Americans may suffer from depression, addiction, and anxiety brought on by financial woes.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, which amounts to 18.1% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders remain highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment. It’s also important to remember that someone with an anxiety disorder may also suffer from depression or vice versa. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

How Raising the Minimum Wage Could Help

As it turns out, paying Americans more for their time may help combat these trends. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests that between 1990 and 2015, raising the minimum wage by $1 in each state might have saved more than 27,000 lives, while increasing the minimum wage by $2 in each state could have prevented more than 57,000 suicides.

Why?

Because a lack of sufficient income is one of the most-often named causes of stress, anxiety, and depression for people – all of which increase a person’s risk of suicide.

For the study, researchers compared suicide rates and the minimum wage for all 50 states every month from 1990 to 2015. They ran the numbers through a mathematical model which showed, on average, that for every $1 increase in the minimum wage, the suicide rate decreased by somewhere from 3.5% to 6%.

Based on the findings, raising wages seems to prevent more suicides during periods of high unemployment. When the economy is in a slump, raising the hourly wage for some workers could make all the difference in the world.

Yet, it should be noted that the authors of the study looked at data at the state level, not specific individuals, which means these findings are meant to be interpreted as rough estimates at best.

However, critics of the study have also pointed out that raising the minimum wage could lead to unexpected repercussions that may affect these findings. For example, higher wages may force some employers to lay off some of their staff, which means some may benefit from such a proposal while others may become worse off than they were before.

The federal minimum wage is currently just $7.25 an hour, although many states have raised this number substantially. According to the Center for Poverty Research, about 1.3 million U.S. workers aged 16 and over earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage in 2014. Another 1.7 million had wages below the federal minimum.

Together, these workers made up 4% of all hourly paid workers. Female, minority, and younger workers are more likely to make the minimum wage than their older, male counterparts. Living off this amount of money can be a challenge for so many Americans. They may struggle to pay for food, housing, and even healthcare. All that extra stress and working more than one job can lead to substance abuse, depression, poor diet, lack of physical activity, anxiety, and ultimately, suicide.

As you talk to your patients, it’s important to recognize the relationship between an individual’s finances and their physical and mental health. Try to help your patients make the best of their difficult situations. Talk to them about low-cost insurance options such as Medicaid and other non-profit healthcare options. Encourage them to sign up for food stamps and federal assistance programs that may help them make ends meet. Help them find time to eat healthy and exercise throughout the week. No one should have to fall victim to poor physical and mental health due to low wages.

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