Advocates push for $15 minimum wage in Vermont

Daniel Fowler
January 12, 2020

A new report published this week in the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health showed that raising the minimum wage in each state by $ 2 could prevent more than 57,000 suicides between 1990 and 2015.

On the first point, the authors theorize that wages are higher anyway when unemployment is low (because workers have more bargaining power in tight labor markets) so the protection for people's well-being offered by the minimum wage itself is less significant.

And when salaries increase by $ 2, you are talking about almost 26,000 cases of suicide after the peak of unemployment in 2009 during the last recession.

There is widespread support among Democratic presidential candidates for doubling the federal minimum wage from $ 7.25 to $ 15, including former vice president Joe Biden and United States senator Bernie Sanders. She graduated from Columbia University School of Journalism and was previously a News and Politics Writer for Bustle News.

They calculated the difference between the actual number of suicides that occurred at a state minimum wage, and the number their model predicted would occur when that wage was higher.

To figure out whether the minimum wage was related to suicide rates, Kaufman and his coauthors looked at both numbers, by state, for every month between 1990 to 2015.

Nationwide, there were 478 changes in state minimum wages during the study period.

The new study took a state-by-state approach, examining local minimum wage data and unemployment rates as well as the number of suicides.

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A $ 1 increase in the federal minimum wage could have prevented 13,800 suicides among lower-educated adults aged 18 to 64 during the peak of unemployment following the 2009 financial crash, researchers estimate.

U Khin Maung Thwin, secretary of Minimum Wage Committee and regional officer of Department of Labour, said the data collection will start on Monday in six townships and data will be collected for 18 days.

Minimum wage hikes didn't appear to impact suicide rates for people with more education, however.

Over the same time period, the study saw no effect between minimum wage increases and the suicide rates of those with a college education or higher, and that strengthens this study's evidence, according to Kaufman. Also, because the study specifies the dosage in dollars, that means a state-federal gap of, say, $7.25 to $8.25 would have the same effect as a $14 to $15 gap, even though those differences are quite different percentage-wise.

But, speaking as an educated layman, I don't find this last critique by Mathur particularly persuasive.

"Suicide is often associated with financial stressors such as job loss, debt or financial hardship, but less is known about how economic interventions such as minimum wage policies could ameliorate these risk factors", the researchers write in their paper.

However, a quarter of underpaying employers were given the chance to "self-correct" and pay back arrears with no penalty, while half received a "prompt payment" discount, reducing their penalty from the maximum 200% of arrears to 100%. But ultimately, the reason to avoid increasing unemployment is that joblessness itself is decimating to people's mental well-being.

Which legislators stand up for ordinary working people and support a higher minimum wage? Suicide is the most extreme outcome of the very despair and hopelessness that unemployment can cause. Raising the minimum wage did not seem to affect whether college graduates would die by suicide. And that's a devastating finding for minimum wage opponents' theory of the case.

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