A $1 increase in minimum wage could drive down suicide rates in the US by 6%

Silhouette Depressed Man Sitting At Table
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the US. [Photo: Getty]

A $1 (76p) increase in minimum wage could cause suicide rates in the US to fall by up to 6%, research suggests.

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the US, with more than 47,000 Americans taking their own life in 2017, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

In the UK and Ireland, over 6,000 people died by suicide in 2018, Samaritans statistics show.

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To uncover how financial worries impact this, scientists from Emory University in Atlanta compared the minimum hourly wage across all 50 states with suicide rates over 25 years.

Based on their findings, they estimated suicide rates could decline by 3.5%-to-6% for every dollar increase earned by employees with a secondary school education or less.

The same was not found to be true for those with a university degree or higher.

“Our findings are consistent with the notion that policies designed to improve the livelihoods of individuals with less education, who are more likely to work at lower wages and at higher risk for adverse mental health outcomes, can reduce the suicide risk in this group,” the scientists wrote in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Suicide was behind nearly one in five (19%) deaths of those aged 18-to-24 in the US in 2017.

It is also on the rise, increasing by more than 30% in half of the US states between 1999 and 2017.

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To better understand how financial difficulties may affect this, the scientists looked at the state and federal minimum hourly wage compared to state unemployment and suicide rates for every month of 1990-to-2015.

The US government currently sets the minimum wage at $7.25 (£5.44) an hour, according to the US Department of Labor. Many states also have minimum wage laws.

Over the study’s 25-year duration, there were 478 changes in state minimum wages across US states.

In 1990, 36 states had a minimum wage equal to the federal rate. By 2015, this had fallen to 21 states.

According to the government website, if an employee is subject to both state and federal minimum wage, they are entitled to the higher of the two.

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The scientists found 399, 206 people with a secondary school education or less took their lives over the 25 years.

This is compared to 140,176 people with a higher level of education.

When unemployment was high (above 6.5%), a relatively higher minimum wage was linked to lower suicide rates.

“Our findings suggest the potential protective effects of a higher minimum wage are more important during times of high unemployment”, the scientists wrote.

A $1 increase could have prevented 27,550 suicides over the 25 years, while a $2 (£1.50) rise could have saved 57,350 victims, the scientists estimate.

As well as reducing a worker’s financial burden, earning more could give them greater job satisfaction, perceived social status and more control over their lives.

If you are struggling, the Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116 123 free of charge.

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