Researchers have found more evidence that infant mortality increases with a lower minimum wage.
New “compelling evidence” shows that keeping United States local authorities from increasing minimum wages has contributed to increases in infant mortality.
The study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, illuminates the consequences of state preemption laws used to remove authority from local governments.
The U.S. has a higher rate of infant mortality than similar countries. While this rate has fallen significantly in the past century, the country has not kept pace with its peers.
Moreover, recent statistics about infant mortality in the U.S. reveal deep racial and ethnic inequities.
A recent investigation revealed striking differences in rates of mortality among infants of different races and ethnicities born in the U.S. In some cases, there was a five-fold increase.
The team found 2.3 deaths per 1,000 live births among Chinese infants, 8.5 deaths per 1,000 live births among American Indian or Alaska Native infants, and 11.2 deaths per 1,000 live births among Black infants.
As the team behind the present study observes, “Higher minimum wages are protective partly through lowering financial stress, maternal smoking, and teenage pregnancy and by increasing access to pre- and postnatal care.”
However, state preemption laws have been increasingly used to stop local authorities from raising minimum wages.
The use of state preemption laws has attracted more scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic: State governments have used them to oppose local mandates on social distancing and mask wearing, often by executive order.
The first use of these laws to oppose increasing the minimum age was in Louisiana in 1995. This also occurred in Colorado in 1999 and in a further 23 states between 2000 and 2018.
While state preemption laws may not necessarily damage public health, researchers have shown that these laws have had this effect.
As various teams have highlighted, state preemption laws too often become instruments of the tobacco, firearm, and alcohol industries, whose interests often conflict with public health concerns.
To understand the effects that state preemption laws can have on public health, the researchers behind the present study investigated whether there was a causal link between opposition to raising the minimum wage and infant mortality.
To do so, they analyzed data about these mortality rates from the National Center for Health Statistics, a federal agency, between 2001 and 2018.
They cross-checked this information with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics about minimum wages and instances of states stopping local authorities from raising them.
In their analysis, the researchers accounted for various confounding factors. This helped them identify what is likely a causal relationship between minimum wages and infant mortality rates.
The researchers found that in large cities, for every dollar added to the minimum wage, infant deaths are likely to be reduced by up to 1.8%.
Turning their attention to areas in which state preemption laws had blocked efforts to increase the minimum wage, the team found that if the minimum wage had risen to $9.99, then 605 more infants would have survived each year.
This figure increased to reflect the survival of 1,419 infants had the minimum wage been raised to $15.
The researchers conclude that state preemption laws blocking minimum wage increases are likely causing the deaths of hundreds of infants each year.
The team — led by Douglas A. Wolf, a professor of public administration and international affairs at Syracuse University, in New York — recognizes that raising the minimum wage might result in some job losses. However, they note that conflicting evidence underpins this assumption.
The researchers also highlight that increasing the minimum wage may stimulate the creation of new higher-paid jobs.
Ultimately, they observe that “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.”