A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that between roughly 2,800 and 5,500 premature deaths that occurred in New York City from 2008 to 2012 could have been prevented if the city’s minimum wage had been $15 an hour during that time, instead of a little over $7 an hour. That number represents up to one in 12 of all people who died prematurely in those five years. The chronic stress that accompanies poverty can be seen at the cellular level. It has been linked to a wide array of adverse conditions, from maternal health problems to tumor growth. Higher wages bring much-needed relief to poor workers. The lead author of the 2016 study, Tsu-Yu Tsao, a research director at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was “very surprised by the magnitude of the findings.” He is unaware of any drug on the market that comes close to having this big of an effect.
A $15 minimum wage is an antidepressant. It is a sleep aid. A diet. A stress reliever. It is a contraceptive, preventing teenage pregnancy. It prevents premature death. It shields children from neglect. But why? Poverty can be unrelenting, shame-inducing and exhausting. When people live so close to the bone, a small setback can quickly spiral into a major trauma. Being a few days behind on the rent can trigger a hefty late fee, which can lead to an eviction and homelessness. An unpaid traffic ticket can lead to a suspended license, which can cause people to lose their only means of transportation to work. In the same way, modest wage increases have a profound impact on people’s well-being and happiness. Poverty will never be ameliorated on the cheap. But this truth should not prevent us from acknowledging how powerfully workers respond to relatively small income boosts.
You need to have the capacity to exercise, to eat well, to sleep soundly. Back when I was working two jobs when Kick was a toddler I ate like shit and threw my back out and could barely get it together to clean my house much less do meal prep with organic vegetables. I would get a cold and it would knock me out for weeks. I had no reserves from which to draw, and an unexpected inconvenience would send me into a full-on tailspin. Financially speaking, I was okay. Not great, but okay. And the stress of it all still staggered me completely. 2015 alone took five years off my life.
On the one hand DURR OF COURSE MONEY MAKES YOU HEALTHIER. But we have not approached money as a public health concern. When you are broke and tired, you cannot expect to function at a level that lets you do everything you need to do and in case anyone hasn’t noticed shit is INSANE right now. The world is big and dumb and complicated and calling your doctor is like an all-day ordeal and nothing is easy. If the bus is late five minutes your whole, like, thing comes crashing down, and living like that takes a very definite health toll.
This is obvious. It should be obvious, but we are determined to be cling to our fantasies of the laziest poor people who just need to be told to work harder:
West Virginia delegates are set to vote Tuesday on a bill that would terminate health insurance for some low-income West Virginians, a vulnerable population that a state analysis says is especially prone to death by overdose.
Last week, West Virginia House of Delegates Finance Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, introduced a bill in his committee that would require people who receive Medicaid in West Virginia to work, volunteer or participate in workforce training 20 hours a week.
In 2017, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources released an analysis of more than 800 overdose deaths in 2016 and found that about 71 percent of them were low-income people on Medicaid. About a third of the state’s population is currently on Medicaid.
Not only are we not saving people, we are making it harder for them to save themselves. We are taking away the few things — public assistance, services — that give them room to breathe and then putting a pillow over their faces.