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Higher Minimum Wages Are Good for Newborn Health

Higher Minimum Wages Are Good for Newborn Health

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Ari Landworth/Flickr

From The Atlantic City Lab:

by Laura Bliss

In the U.S., the debate around the minimum wage does not lack controversy, but it does lack up-to-date research. Academic studies on the effects of raising hourly pay—especially to $15, which has become something of a magic number for progressive cities and states—have not kept pace with the whirlwind movement. And relatively little research has focused on the non-economic impacts of such significant wage bumps: for example, how they affect the health of infants.

This is no arbitrary question. Women make up the majority of minimum-wage workers. In the U.S., income level has a pronounced, positive link to birth weight and infant mortality. Low birth weights are associated with myriad long-term poor outcomes for children, including respiratory and cardiovascular sickness, cognitive and developmental issues, and lower educational attainment. These effects have led some economists to characterize the health trajectories for some kids born to poor parents as being “unequal at birth.”

So when hourly pay gets bumped up, what benefits (if any) extend to the tiniest citizens? Two recent studies—a working paper in NBER and research published in the American Journal of Public Health—evaluate that question.

The NBER study examines how state-level minimum wages affect birth weight, length of gestation, and fetal development among births in the U.S. between 1989 and 2012, focusing on a sample of women with low educational status. The AJPH researchers focused on a similar time frame—1980 to 2011—and tracked the effects of more than 200 changes to state minimum wages on rates of low birth weight and infant mortality.

Both studies controlled for other factors that can influence infant health, such as whether the mother smoked, how often she received medical care, and whether the family received Medicaid benefits or earned-income tax credits. They also accounted for potential negative effects of increased minimum wages, such as job losses.

The findings? Increases in minimum wage are associated with significant net positive effects for newborn health, the two papers concluded. The authors of the NBER study write:

… An increase in the minimum wage is associated with a significant increase in birth weight: a $1 increase in the minimum wage increases birth weight by about 11 grams, which would imply an 85 grams increase with a $7.75-dollar increase in the minimum wage from the current federal level of $7.25 to $15. A $1 increase in minimum wage is also associated with a 0.2 percentage point, or 2%, decrease in the probability of low-birth weight.

Read more from The Atlantic City Lab.

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