As minimum wage debates rage around the country, policymakers continue to argue about whether raising the minimum wage is an economic benefit. But what is often overlooked is the potential for a higher minimum wage to improve public health, especially for young people.
For one, raising the minimum wage improves the sexual health of young women. According to research conducted by the University of Illinois between 2003 and 2014, there appears to be a solid correlation between an increase in the minimum wage and a reduction in adolescent birth rates. For every dollar that the minimum wage is raised, the rate of babies being born to mothers between the ages of 16 and 19 is reduced by about 2 percent, or roughly 5,000 babies, per year.
Raising the minimum wage also has other positive health effects related to the birth of children, including healthier body mass index rates, reduced risk of child mistreatment and lower premature mortality rates in children. This connection has led the Los Angeles Times to quip that raising the minimum wage is a form of “birth control” for young women.
In order to create a meaningful benefit to public health, raising the minimum wage must go hand-in-hand with support for public institutions that minimum wage workers rely on. On Monday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to block federal funds from being allocated to “organizations which promote abortion around the world,” which means organizations offering educational material on family planning services and sexual health to women around the world.
While legislation that concerns domestic funding for Planned Parenthood has yet to pass, this executive action shows that Trump means to obstruct women’s access to resources for family planning. In this situation, a higher minimum wage alone could not protect women’s ability to access critical health care.
Making reproductive health care less accessible has serious, documentable and widespread repercussions. People who do not have regular access to affordable reproductive care suffer higher rates of STIs.
States defunding public reproductive health care clinics also contribute to higher rates of unplanned pregnancies. On top of the personal consequences of going through a pregnancy and raising a child without being emotionally or financially prepared, high rates of unplanned pregnancies cost taxpayers extraordinary sums of money in Medicare.
Movements to defund public reproductive health care clinics such as Planned Parenthood usually are motivated by a desire to make abortions less accessible. While this is a problem, the services provided by these clinics are much broader in scope. Through organizations such as Planned Parenthood, women gain access to vital reproductive health procedures such as pap smears, medication for treatment of STIs, breast and cervical cancer screenings, affordable IUDs and daily contraceptive pills. Communities also gain greater access to education through which they can learn how to better take care of themselves and prevent STIs and unexpected pregnancies from occurring in the first place. These resources are the bulwark of ensuring positive reproductive health care — they are essential and cannot be replaced.
There are many proven benefits to raising the minimum wage, from an overall higher standard of living, to moving hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty, to a more stimulated economy.
Ultimately, the most telling benefit is the reduction of the rate of adolescent births. Still, it is of vital importance that we protect public institutions that assist low-wage workers and provide solutions and access to critical resources that raising the minimum wage alone cannot guarantee.