Report: Increasing Minimum Wage Saves Lives

by Fred McKissack Jr. | November 30, 2016 12:00 pm

Tuesday’s “Day of Disruption” walkout by thousands of low-income workers underscores that the Fight for $15 movement is undeterred by the change of administration. Earlier this month, voters approved minimum-wage raises for Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington.

What began as a long shot to even liberal labor leaders, the resurgent low-income fight is now bolstered by quantitative research of its success from the National Employment Law Project.

“Since the Fight for $15 launched in 2012, low-wage workers have won $61.5 billion in annual raises through a combination of state and local minimum wage increases together with action by employers to raise their companies’ minimum pay scales,” the report says.

“To put these wage gains in context, this $61.5 billion raise delivered by the Fight for $15 to workers in just a handful of states is more than 10 times larger than the total raise received by workers in all 50 states under Congress’s last federal minimum wage increase, approved in 2007.”

This is welcome news to advocates who have touted the benefits of higher wages for families. But this fight is beyond dignity and fairness. It is about life and death.

Thousands of deaths in New York could have been avoided if the minimum-hourly wage had been $15, say researchers in an article published this summer in the American Journal of Public Health.

“A higher minimum wage may have substantial positive effects on health and should be considered as an instrument to address health disparities,” the authors contend.

Using the 2008 to 2012 American Community Survey, researchers from New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene performed simulations they say assessed how lives of low-income residents might change with a hypothetical $15 minimum wage. The peer-reviewed report sees a correlation between the life expectancy of low-income workers, particularly minorities, and higher-wage earners who have access to more of the healthcare system including preventative medicine and treatment.

“Our analysis may help increase appreciation for the potential health impact of not only minimum wage but also policies as diverse as those directed at education, labor, and transportation among legislators and the general public,” the report says.

President-elect Donald Trump’s debate stance was that he couldn’t endorse a doubling of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Fight for $15 leaders have focused almost exclusively on municipal and state measures rather than a federal mandate.

Still, it would behoove the new administration to look at the mounting evidence that low-income wages nationwide, but particularly in urban America, which the president-elect has often dubbed as “war zones,” will continue to have a negative effect on current and future generations.

Fredrick McKissack, Jr. is a writing fellow for the Center for Community Change.


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