12801664_907373619375337_9197281522660029129_nEarlier this month, the governors of California and New York both signed bills that would gradually increase their states’ minimum wages to $15 per hour. While some business leaders opposed the measures, new evidence suggests that such a boost may deliver significant public health benefits.

A new study out last week in the American Journal of Public Health found that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour in New York City could have averted up to 5,500 premature deaths between 2008 and 2012.

Researchers with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene used the 2008-2012 American Community Survey to assess how the proportion of low-income residents in each New York City neighborhood might change with a hypothetical $15 minimum wage. Based on data on the deaths of New Yorkers, they determined the potential reductions in the levels of premature mortality as predicted by the changes in the proportions of low-income residents resulting from the hypothetical wage increase.

Analysis suggested that a minimum wage increase to $15 per hour would have reduced premature deaths by as many as 5,500 deaths over five years. Even if wage increases led to modest job losses, as many as 2,800 deaths could have been averted in this period. Further, with a $15 minimum wage more than 1 million low-income residents might see an average $10,000 per year boost in family income and about 400,000 could move up from below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

“As research on income and health consistently demonstrates that lower income and poverty are associated with worse health outcomes and earlier death, the recent national advocacy across the United States to raise the minimum wage as a way of improving the income of the working poor could also have important health consequences,” the authors explain. “Recent legislation has established a $15 per hour minimum wage in several states and municipalities. This analysis adds to a growing body of work by health departments to resurrect the centrality of minimum wages to population health.”

APHA has strongly supported minimum wage increases – check out our resources on the issue, including a policy statement and stories in Public Health Newswire and The Nation’s Health.

For more about this study and the latest public health research, visit the American Journal of Public Health online.