A working paper disseminated by the National Bureau of Economic Research has shown that suicide rates can possibly be reduced through economic policy. The suicide rate has increased by 35% since 2000, including a significant rise in the suicides in the white population. As reported by the Washington Post:
There are hints that these deaths are the result of worsening prospects among less-educated people but few immediate answers. But maybe the solution is simple: pursue policies that improve the prospects of working-class Americans.
Researchers have found that when the minimum wage in a state increased, or when states boosted a tax credit for working families, the suicide rate decreased.
The paper from a University of California at Berkeley team (made up of economists Anna Godoey and Michael Reich, and public-health specialists William Dow and Christopher Lowenstein) says that if the earned-income tax credit (meant to improve the wages of low-income workers) and minimum wage were raised by 10%, then 1,230 suicides could be prevented each year. The researchers drew upon the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s death data from 1999-2015. Their analysis showed that these two changes in economic policy would reduce suicide rates, especially among workers with less education and low wages.
Analyzing data from those years, it appears that raising the EITC by 10% reduced suicides (unrelated to drugs) among adults without a college education by around 5.5%, while increasing the minimum wage by 10% lowered suicides by 3.6%. Changes in minimum wage had an immediate effect on suicide rates, while boosting the EITC had a delayed effect. Unsurprisingly, the effect had the strongest impact in populations likely to have minimum wage jobs, including young women, black men and Hispanic men.
This research adds to a number of studies showing the connections between economic policy and overall health, particularly mental health. Mothers who got higher EITC reported better physical and mental health, according to a 2014 analysis in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, and a paper soon to be published shows that men’s death rates increased in cities where jobs disappeared due to competition from foreign markets.