Minimum wage hike could improve health

By BenefitsPro

By Dan Cook

An Oakland, Calif.-based health policy organization has determined that a California bill designed to increase the state’s minimum wage over the next three years could have a “substantial” and beneficial effect on the health of Californians living in or near poverty.

The analysis by Human Impact Partners considered a variety of factors, including:
    The effect of the bill on minimum wage worker salaries, as the wage rises from the current $9 an hour to $13 an hour in 2017;

  • Health and morbidity data from the state’s health data base for those living under the federal poverty level and those living above it;

  • Data from other research that examined family and personal income and health-threatening conditions such as smoking, obesity and malnutrition;

  • Mental health data, again with comparisons by income.
“This health analysis finds that raising the state’s current minimum wage to $13 by 2017 would significantly benefit health and well-being,” Human Impact Partners reported. “As a result of the proposed law, about 7.5 million lower-income Californians could expect an increase in family income. Californians would experience fewer chronic diseases and disabilities; less hunger, smoking and obesity; and lower rates of depression and bipolar illness. In the long run, raising the minimum wage would prevent the premature deaths of hundreds of lower-income Californians each year.”

The organization, which reviews policies such as minimum wage law through the lens of public health, noted that not only do low-income families and people face more health threats in general, but they also tend to have restricted access to health care providers.
“Lower-income neighborhoods tend to have fewer resources for healthy living, including nutritious and affordable food options, safe and comfortable parks and trails, and public services,” the study said. “Children in lower-income families are exposed to multiple, cumulative physical and psychosocial risk factors including family turmoil, community violence, early childhood separation, substandard housing, noise, and crowding.”

The organization said the increases would lift millions of Californians out of poverty. That would address a chronic hunger issue among the poor, and would make strides toward offering them better access to health care providers and the opportunity to relocate into safer, better served neighborhoods.

“Most dramatically, premature deaths of 389 lower-income Californians would be prevented each year. Nationally, people who live above the federal poverty line can expect to live more than five years longer than those below the line,” the study reported.

Higher wages would have a major effect on educational performance throughout the state, the study predicted.

“More of California’s children would be better prepared for school and achieve more in school, which in itself leads to healthier adult lives,” the study said. “Children would miss fewer school days. Our analysis of CHIS data found that children under five [years of age] whose family incomes are more than three times the federal poverty level are 2.6 times more likely to have been read to by a caregiver than children whose family incomes are below the poverty level. Teens whose family incomes are below the poverty level are almost twice as likely to miss three or more days of school in a month when compared to teens in families with incomes of more than three times the poverty level.”

Additionally, higher family income is associated with lower rates of smoking and obesity and increased exercise, all of which would lead to better health, lower rates of infant mortality and lower costs overall to the health care system.

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