A new study from UC Berkeley researchers measures how labor and workplace policies such as increased minimum wage and earned income tax credit can reduce rising deaths due to drug overdose, suicide, and alcohol, also known as “deaths of despair.”
“This paper is part of my larger research agenda to understand the potential for upstream economic policies to improve population health by strengthening economic security among vulnerable groups,” William Dow, professor of health policy and management at Berkeley Public Health and the study’s lead author, said. “The recent attention to increases in so-called ‘deaths of despair,’ including rapidly rising suicide rates, has heightened interest in prevention policies.”
Researchers measured the differences in minimum wage and earned-income tax credit policies in each state in the US while also measuring rates of “deaths of despair.” According to the study, the effects of these policies on drug and alcohol related mortality were low, but non-drug suicides were significantly affected by increases in minimum wage and earned-income tax credit benefits. Ten percent increases in both minimum wage or earned-income tax credits led to a decrease in non-drug suicides by about 3% and would likely prevent more than 700 suicides each year across the country, according to researchers. The study was published in the Journal of Health Economics.
“This research study adds to the growing evidence that minimum wages and earned-income tax credit policies can not only reduce poverty, but they can also buffer against adverse health consequences of poverty,” Dow said. “We estimate about 8,000 averted suicides in states that increased minimum wages or earned-income tax credit benefits during 2000-2018, and we predict that further strengthening these economic support policies would lead to substantial additional improvements in population health.”