In this brief, we describe the characteristics of minimum-wage workers, discuss the potential pathways through which the minimum wage may affect the health of workers and their families, and review recent empirical studies in this area. Our key findings are as follows:
- Minimum-wage workers were younger, more likely to be women, more likely to have lower educational attainment, and more likely to be Hispanic than all other workers.
- Evidence suggests minimum-wage increases are associated with declines in smoking prevalence and the number of days with health limitations among low-wage workers and lower prevalence of low birth weight among such workers’ newborns. Moreover, recent evidence suggests minimum-wage increases reduce rates of mortality due to suicides, alcohol, or drugs and are associated with improved parent-reported health among young children.
- Other studies have also documented that minimum-wage increases are associated with reduced employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) coverage among low-wage workers. Although the measured reduction in ESI is not associated with changes in overall coverage, it could affect health care access and affordability.
- Some empirical evidence demonstrates that increases in the minimum wage are associated with reduced racial and ethnic disparities in income. Given the well-documented inequities in health by race and ethnicity, future research on the efficacy of the minimum wage as a policy lever to reduce health inequities is warranted.
Future studies examining the large expansions in the minimum wage currently underway in many states may provide more definitive evidence on the health-related effects of minimum-wage increases. Though this is an area that has received substantial research attention over the past several decades, recent and forthcoming large changes in minimum wages could produce new, materially different findings about how minimum-wage increases affect the health and health benefits of workers and their family members. We anticipate that these recent, large increases in minimum wages will raise the potential for larger and more meaningful economic and health impacts on low-wage workers and their families.