UC Berkeley study finds increasing minimum wage may reduce suicide mortality

Brian Bi/Staff

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A new study authored by UC Berkeley researchers has linked increases in minimum wage and earned income tax credit, or EITC, with a reduction in the number of suicide mortalities.

The study, which was published Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that a 10 percent increase in minimum wage reduced nondrug suicides among adults educated at the high school level or less by 3.6 percent. Similarly, a 10 percent increase in EITC reduced nondrug suicides by 5.5 percent.

The study is the first that establishes a cause-and-effect relationship between the two economic policies and deaths from suicides, according to study co-author Anna Godoey, a research economist at the UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Other study co-authors include UC Berkeley School of Public Health Interim Dean William Dow, public health graduate student Christopher Lowenstein and campus economics professor Michael Reich.

“We want to examine if economic policies impacting low wage workers could make a difference,” Godoey said.

According to the study, midlife mortality for adults without a bachelor’s degree in the United States has been rising for non-Latinx whites since the 1990s, and for Latinx and Black adults since 2013.

The study also found that policy effects were larger and more statistically significant for women. The research model did not detect any differential effects of minimum wage on suicide for non-white Latinx adults and other racial minority groups.

To ensure that minimum wage and EITC policy changes were not correlated with other observed causes of mortality, the researchers utilized a placebo group of college-educated adults. There were no significant effects of policy changes on the placebo group.

The researchers also included other control variables, such as state unemployment rates and healthcare coverage, to ensure that the relationship between economic policy changes and health were causal.

“If that (other variables affected suicide) were the case, we’d expect the number of suicides to be continuously falling in these states,” Godoey said. “The reduction of suicides timing corresponds very closely with the (timing of) policy change.”

Godoey added that she hopes future research can further investigate the mechanisms that cause economic policy to affect health.

“More research into health and social outcomes of these policies would be useful in understanding the impact of these policies in American lives,” Godoey said.

Other studies have found that expansions of EITC significantly improve the health of mothers and birth outcomes and that minimum wage increases do not necessarily result in job market losses. In October, Berkeley’s minimum wage increased to $15 — more than double the national minimum wage of $7.25.

“If policymakers are concerned about the increasing rates of suicide, I think this study is an indication that they should consider economic policies as a part of their toolkit,” Godoey said.

Contact Andreana Chou at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AndreanaChou.