By William H. Dow, Professor of Health Economics, University of California, Berkeley; Anna Godøy, Research Economist, University of California, Berkeley; Chris Lowenstein, PhD student in Health Economics, University of California, Berkeley; and Michael Reich,Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley. Originally published at VoxEU
Policymakers and researchers have sought to understand the causes of and effective policy responses to recent increases in mortality due to alcohol, drugs, and suicide in the US. This column examines the role of the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit – the two most important policy levers for raising incomes for low-wage workers – as tools to combat these trends. It finds that both policies significantly reduce non-drug suicides among adults without a college degree, and that the effect is stronger among women. The findings point to the role of economic policies as important determinants of health.
Since 2014, overall life expectancy in the US has fallen for three years in a row, reversing a century-long trend of steadily declining mortality rates. This decrease in life expectancy reflects a dramatic increase in deaths from so-called ‘deaths of despair’ – alcohol, drugs, and suicide – among Americans without a college degree (Case and Deaton 2015, 2017). Between 1999 and 2017, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths increased by 256%, while suicides grew by 33% (Hedegaard et al. 2017, 2018).
In their pioneering work first highlighting these trends, Case and Deaton point to declining economic opportunity among working class non-Hispanic whites – combined with an increase in chronic pain, social distress, and the