Tag Archives: Minimum Wage

Good Jobs For All Would Boost Health, Reduce Inequities

Last week several national organizations launched the Putting Families First: Good Jobs For All campaign to bring the issues of jobs, poverty, and inequality to the center of the national debate. “Today, our country is more aware than ever before that our entire economic system is out of balance. We have reached a time in history where the need, the opportunity, and the energy are all here to create an economy that works for our families—now we need the will and the dedication of the American public to make it happen,” wrote Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Community Change.

The campaign will mobilize people around the country – especially poor people and people of color – to advocate for a national agenda focused on:

  1. Guaranteeing good wages and benefits, including a $15 minimum wage, access to paid sick days and paid family leave, and protections from wage theft;
  2. Valuing families by making high quality, affordable early education and child care available to all working parents and their children;
  3. Building a clean energy economy through large-scale investment to substantially reduce our reliance on carbon-based energy and to repair and rebuild our infrastructure;
  4. Unlocking opportunity in the poorest communities by channeling federal investments to communities with high unemployment and low wages to help rebuild their local economies and provide access to jobs and wealth-building opportunities; and
  5. Taxing concentrated wealth, including eliminating differences in taxation of capital gains and income, strengthening the estate tax, increasing taxes on the highest incomes, ending the ability of corporations to defer US tax payments on offshore income, and taxing corporations for wage inequality.

This is a bold and ambitious agenda that would create over five million new jobs a year by directing government to take an active role in guiding our economy through investing and shaping new and emerging sectors. These investments would be targeted to help those who need it most, closing racial and gender inequities, and be paid for by changes in our tax system that reward those who create wealth in this country – hard working people.

While those leading the campaign – the Center for Community Change (whose board I am chair of), the Center for Popular Democracy, Jobs with Justice, The Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, and the Working Families Organization – are thinking about this as a jobs campaign, it is also a campaign to improve health and reduce health inequities. Several speakers at the launch event, including Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and SCOPE Executive Director Gloria Walton, noted the impacts of income on health and lifespan, but health is still an underutilized frame when talking about social and economic policy.

The Putting Families First campaign aligns with HIP’s new Economic Security Program, which will bring public health data, framing, and voices to social movements advancing a range of economic security policy campaigns.

As we’ve said before, no single factor is more important for healthy living than an adequate income, and none is more harmful to health than persistent poverty. Economic security is necessary for people to thrive, successfully manage stress, and prevent disease. Overwork, poor quality food, housing insecurity, and other consequences of low wages and unemployment contribute to physical and mental health problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and depression.

Economic security requires guaranteeing that work is available, safe, and pays a decent wage. Ensuring that families have a decent standard of living is one of the most powerful tools we have to protect and promote health.

A Powerful Prescription for Better Public Health: Raise the Minimum Wage

This week, we are reposting an article from “The Pump Handle.” The article is written by HIP co-founder, Rajiv Bhatia, M.D.

Over the past three decades, real wages for low-income workers in the United States have either stagnated or declined. The federal minimum wage is intended to maintain a decent standard of living, but has fallen woefully behind. The current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour is now worth less than it was in 1968.  Read more… 

Wages are a Public-Health Issue

The Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, Dr. Edward Ehlinger, just published this article on MinnPost.com. We recently referenced the work of his Department in a February blog post about how public health should get more engaged in minimum wage campaigns. Read the article to learn more about why Dr. Ehlinger “prescribes an increase in the minimum wage to improve the lives and health of vulnerable children and families.”

Overcrowded Prisons, Immigration Reform and the Power of the Presidency

In his fifth State of the Union Address, President Obama declared that he would defy a do-nothing, obstructionist Congress and use his executive authority to address the ever-growing gap between the richest Americans and the rest of us. “America does not stand still,” the president said, “and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers and other executive actions to fight inequality are important steps, and they are directly connected to improving public health. But there are other crises the president can tackle with the power of his office. Two of the most serious are, like inequality, strong determinants of public health.

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Bill Keller points to “the famously shocking numbers of Americans behind bars.” With 2.3 million prisoners, the incarceration rate in the United States is by far the highest in the world – with only 5 percent of the world’s population, we have locked up nearly one-fourth of the prisoners on earth.

Much of the increase in incarceration has come from harsh mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders and people with mental health issues – people who need treatment, not punishment. HIP’s Health Impact Assessment on reducing the prison population in Wisconsin found that sending non-violent offenders to treatment rather than prison would mean healthier lives, stronger families and safer communities. Treatment is much more likely to help people recover from substance abuse, reduce the need for future psychiatric care, and improve the health of children by keeping their parents at home, not behind bars.

And yet, writes Keller, Obama – a former community organizer in inner-city Chicago – “has had surprisingly little to say about the shadow cast by prisons on the families left behind, about the way incarceration became the default therapy for drug addicts and the mentally ill, about the abject failure of rehabilitation.” Although Attorney General Eric Holder has recently been more bold about urging states to rethink the cruel consequences of incarceration, the Administration has done little to reduce drug prosecutions or provide more money for treatment programs. Of the 8,000 people in federal prison because of outdated crack cocaine laws, which affect young black men disproportionately, last year Obama pardoned only three.

In the same issue, the Times reported on the annual congress of United We Dream, a national network of immigrant youth, many of whom were once undocumented themselves and whose parents are undocumented. Many Dreamers live in daily fear that their families will be torn apart by the arrest and deportation of their parents.

During his presidency, Obama has deported almost 2 million undocumented immigrants, more than any other president. HIP’s recent HIA on immigration reform found that if deportations continue at the present rate, each year more than 150,000 children will have a parent taken away, pushing more than 80,000 households into poverty and triggering poorer health or behavioral problems for approximately 100,000 children.

The Dreamers called on the president “to cut back programs that have greatly expanded the reach of federal immigration authorities” and grant deportation deferrals to parents of the more than 520,000 youth who have also received deferrals. In words that echo our HIA, United We Dream’s Cristina Jimeniz said: “These deportations are ripping our families apart; this has to stop. And we know the president has the power to do it.”

The Public Health Community Must Support Minimum Wage Campaigns

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25 per hour. As discussed in New York Times coverage of the address, 21 states and the District of Columbia have a minimum wage higher than the federal rate. Across the nation, from Minnesota and Massachusetts to Seattle and Washington, D.C., efforts are underway to increase the minimum wage either through the legislative process or the ballot box.

This should be welcome news for public health practitioners. Income is one of the strongest and most consistent predictors of health and disease. Even modest increases in the minimum wage can lead to benefits for adults and kids – by decreasing the risk of premature deaths in adults, by decreasing the risk of early childbirth, and by increasing high school graduation rates among the children of workers earning higher wages.

But where is the public health establishment on this issue? Few state or local public health departments or national health organizations are engaged in organizing campaigns to adopt a higher minimum wage. This must be remedied, particularly given our collective interest in acting on the social determinants of health, reducing health inequities, and affecting population-level health change.

Opportunities for the public health community to engage in minimum wage campaigns are many. Public health departments can generate data and evidence to demonstrate how income affects health, provide comment letters and public testimony, and write op-eds and other materials to raise awareness. By lending their support, practitioners also can establish relationships and build credibility with social movement organizations and identify new roles for themselves in advancing social policy. But above all, we will show that we view ourselves as part of the larger movement for social justice.

There are only a few examples of public health departments that have done or are doing this. The first HIA in the U.S. was conducted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health and examined the health effects of a proposed living wage ordinance in the city. Today, HIP is working with social justice advocates – for example, in Minnesota – to encourage public health departments to weigh in on state proposals to raise the minimum wage.

The occupational safety and health community led the organizing in the 19th and 20th centuries to adopt safer workplace standards. Let’s continue the tradition of these public health champions by providing our skills, relationships, power, and passion to the many minimum wage campaigns being waged across the country – and thereby improve the health and well-being of those who need it the most.

As Bills Await Governor’s Signature in Sacramento, Health and Equity Must Come First

The end of the California legislative session brings intense speculation about which laws the governor will sign and which he will veto. In the session’s final days, legislators sent Gov. Jerry Brown some 400 bills, which he must sign or veto by Oct. 13.

Many of the bills Brown is considering – on law enforcement, employment, the environment and education – have implications for health and well-being, and may also alleviate inequities in communities across the state. HIP didn’t do an HIA analysis on any of these bills, but much of the research we and others have done helps understand what is at stake. Momentum for this kind of informed decision-making is growing nationwide, and we’re hopeful that consideration of health and equity benefits and harms will only increase in California.

Here are two measures being considered by the governor and evidence that speaks directly to health considerations:

AB 4, the TRUST Act: Prohibiting police from turning undocumented immigrants over to federal authorities unless the immigrants already have a violent felony on their record. This measure directly affects many of the findings reported in Human Impact Partners’ Family Unity, Family Health HIA. If passed, the TRUST Act would reduce the threat of detention and deportation for California’s 2.7 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom are parents of children who are U.S. citizens.

Our HIA found that the mere threat of detention or deportation had profound effects for these children and their families. Nationwide, if deportations continue at 2012 levels, consequences would include poorer child health, behavioral and educational outcomes as well as poorer adult health and reduced lifespan, increased levels of poverty, and diminished access to food.

Though targeted to the federal level, our HIA made a recommendation to effectively adopt the TRUST Act as a way of reducing the harms of current policies. We found that such a policy would help to turn around the wide range of health harms we identified that result from the threat of detention and deportation.

AB 10: Increasing the California state minimum wage from $8 to $10. The first HIA in the U.S., conducted by Dr. Rajiv Bhatia at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, examined the effects of a proposed living wage ordinance in San Francisco.

The analysis documented the benefits to adult health and children’s education achievement attributable to the adoption of a living wage of $11 per hour. The findings were significant, and predicted that adoption of the increased wage would result in decreases in the risk of premature death by five percent for adults 24 to 44 in households whose current income was around $20,000. For the children of these workers, a living wage would also result in an increase in high school graduation rates and a decrease in the risk of early childbirth. San Francisco legislators used findings from the research in adopting the ordinance, and it became law in 2003.

For both of these proposed policies, the evidence of health and equity benefits is compelling. In making his decisions, Gov. Brown should make public health and community equity the highest priority.