Study: Raising the Minimum Wage Is Good For Babies

minimum wage infant mortality

We already know that increasing the minimum wage would help working familiesreduce childhood poverty (and thus, make kids healthier), and generally make life better for parents and kids. But a new public health survey released in May found that the impact of raising the minimum wage isn’t just positive for families as a unit—according to the study, a raise of just $1 could actually reduce infant mortality.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, sought to “investigate the effects of state minimum wage laws on low birth weight and infant mortality in the United States,” according to the authors, Kelli A. Komro, PhD, MPH, Melvin D. Livingston, PhD, Sara Markowitz, PhD, and Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD. 

Their findings?

“If all states in 2014 had increased their minimum wages by 1 dollar, there would likely have been 2790 fewer low birth weight births and 518 fewer postneonatal deaths for the year.”

All things told, the researchers found, that same dollar increase would decrease infant mortality by as much as 4%.

This is hardly the first study that’s linked higher wages to improved public health. A 2015 report published in The Nation’s Health, Minnesota State Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger called the state’s minimum-wage increase a greater benefit to public health than a tobacco tax increase enacted that same year. From that report:

“If you look at the conditions that impact health, income is right at the top of the list,” Ehlinger said. “Anything we can do to help enhance economic stability will have a huge public health benefit. This is a major public health issue.”

It’s not a huge surprise; wealth and public health are linked in a variety of ways.

People living in poverty are more susceptible to obesity, heart disease, and lower life expectancy. And while these links are due to myriad factors, almost all of them can be solved or at least ameliorated just by putting a little extra money into peoples’ pockets. From greater access to basic necessities, like housing that isn’t infested with mold or pests or food that’s high in nutritional value and low in fats, sugars, and preservatives, to more nuanced lifestyle changes, like regular exercise or cleaner air, the ability to spend more of your income to better your environment has a huge impact on the lives of working individuals and families.

Additionally, the direct link between poverty and infant mortality is well established, particularly in urban areas. One 2015 report found that children born to poor families in Washington, D.C., are 10 times more likely to die in infancy than babies born to the area’s most wealthy.

Ten. Times.

It would be willfully ignorant, then, to assume that allowing workers to put in full 40-hour workweeks (or more) while paying poverty wages wouldn’t, in some way, impact the health and wellness of infants and children—and even moreso to assume that fighting minimum wage increases would somehow help, rather than continue to harm, poor families and their children.

Conservative lawmakers may love to tout the ways their poverty platforms are “good for families,” but until they propose literally just paying people more money for the work they’re already doing, those plans not only ignore the lived experience of the working poor, they ignore the science, as well.

 

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Hanna Brooks Olsen
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a reporter in Seattle. Her writing about the economy and politics has appeared in the Atlantic, the Nation, Salon, Fast Company, and elsewhere.