SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Potentially increasing the U.S. minimum wage to $15 per hour has been a much debated topic for some time. Now, researchers from Syracuse University finds a higher minimum wage will save infant lives. Study authors report that for each extra dollar added on to the U.S. minimum wage, annual infant deaths in major U.S. cities drop by 1.8 percent.
The last time the federal minimum wage increased was 12 years ago in 2009. Currently, President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is requesting an increase from Congress of $7.25 to $15 per hour. Of course, achieving that is easier said than done. Numerous efforts to raise the minimum wage in the past have ground to a halt after individual states barred local county and city governments from raising their minimum wages.
How does a higher minimum wage help save infant lives?
Researchers say a higher minimum wage cuts down teen pregnancy rates, reduces maternal smoking, lowers obesity statistics, and reduces birth incidents including low-weight births and even infant deaths.
For this study, study authors analyzed infant death data from each U.S. county between 2001-2018. The information comes from the National Center for Health Statistics and minimum wage level data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Researchers then investigated how many infant lives could have been saved had the minimum wage been raised earlier.
This investigation led them to a few notable conclusions. First and foremost, researchers believe states are “increasingly” blocking city and county governments from enacting new policies benefiting workers.
Moreover, among the 25 states that appear to be blocking minimum wage increases, researchers estimate that 600 babies could have been saved annually if local governments had the ability to raise their local minimum wage to $9.99. If those same areas had been able to approve a $15 minimum wage, over 1,400 babies annually would still be alive according to the data.
People over profits?
In conclusion, study authors contend state laws preventing cities and counties from raising the minimum wage are contributing to infant deaths.
The main argument against raising the federal minimum wage is that it will force some businesses to close their doors and cause others to avoid hiring low-income workers like teens or part-time employees. In response to that argument, researchers argue one has to ask themselves what’s more important: human lives or business profits?
“Those opposed to raising the wage worry about a potential rise in unemployment,” study authors write in a university release. “Any such effect on unemployment should be weighed against the benefits of lifting people out of poverty and saving infant lives via more livable wages.”
“Keeping the minimum wage low may protect business profits and keep prices lower for consumers, but our results suggest that the tradeoff in human lives is steep.”
The study is published in Preventive Medicine.