Researchers say that if America had increased its minimum wage by $2 it could have saved 57,000 lives over 25 years.
Minimum wages cause plenty of arguments among economists. Mostly, though, these arguments centre on money. Fans of introducing or raising the minimum wage talk about how putting more money in workers' pockets would help not just them but local business (because they'll have more money to spend in them). Those who would like it lowered or eliminated say minimum wages are not only a huge cost for business but hurt low-skilled workers because employers respond to the increase by hiring less staff or replacing existing robots with machines.
But a new academic paper suggests that there may be more to it. They looked at minimum wages in America and found that for every $1 increase in the minimum wage, the suicide rate declined by 3.5 percent in adults whose educational qualification stopped at (or before) high school. These people are disproportionately likely to be working low-paid jobs. They’re also disproportionately likely to die by suicide, especially if they’re male.
It’s not hugely surprising that increasing take-home pay might reduce suicide rates. The more money you have, the less likely you are to be faced with potentially devastating socio-economic situations like eviction or credit card debt or, in private-healthcare systems like America’s, being unable to pay your medical bills.
But there will be limits to how much minimum wage increases can reduce suicide, which is almost always a product of lots of different factors including poor mental health. Some economists will also point out that while the current minimum wage level doesn’t seem to increase unemployment, that could change if it rose above a certain level. And as unemployment is also linked to an increased risk of suicide, if that happened it would presumably reverse the suicide-prevention benefits of increasing the minimum wage.
Read our explainer on: are minimum wages good for the economy?