- A new series of studies found a correlation between a $1-an-hour raise for low-paid workers through minimum wage increases and a 4% decrease in smoking. The research showed that there also could be other advantages to raising minimum wages, such as improving mental health and increasing the weight of low-weight newborns. The co-authors of the research, lead author J. Paul Leigh, professor of health economics at the University of California Davis; Juan Du, associate professor of economics at Old Dominion University; and Wesley A. Leigh, graduate teaching assistant at the University of Nevada, Reno, conducted a series of studies on minimum wages and public health in the U.S. and U.K. between 1995 and 2016.
- The researchers studied self-rated health, absence from work, obesity, depression and alcohol abuse, and found that the minimum wage: 1) didn’t lead to higher numbers of unhealthy behaviors; 2) showed decreases in reports of self-assessed poor health, depression and absences from work; and 3) correlated with fewer low-birth-weight babies.
- Aware of the opposition to raising the minimum wage, Du said in a statement: "Those against raising the minimum wage cite negative effects on employment and hours of work. That employers respond to the higher minimum wage by cutting [the] number of workers or the hours they work … we found that raising the minimum wage leads to fewer days absent." He added that the researchers support raising the minimum wage because it can lead to a reduction in smoking and ultimately in medical spending.
The results of this series of studies may seem to point to strange correlations. However, more money in employees' pockets can create a greater sense of well-being, which, in turn, can impact their health — and reduce spending by employers on their health. A survey by Fidelity Investments, in conjunction with the Stanford Center on Longevity, found that employees' greatest struggles were tied to work and financial experiences. Another study found money problems to be the biggest distraction at work for one out of three employees, often leading to anxiety, depression, high absenteeism and other physical and behavioral health problems.
Employment experts debate whether raising minimum wages hurts or benefit workers, but many states have moved ahead and raised their minimum wages — and, last month, Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour. While movement has been exceedingly slow on the federal front regarding these laws, it has been less so on the state level. Additionally, employers must keep in mind that wages have been stagnant for months and that, in a tight labor market, workers unhappy with their pay are more likely to search for a job that pays better elsewhere.