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Vermont’s latest health care bill

When the Vermont Senate voted last week to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, it was portrayed as an economic boon and a way to narrow the gap between low-income families and the well-to-do. What some senators may not have realized is that they also were passing a health care bill.

The New York Times Magazine ran a story last weekend about the various health benefits—both physical and mental—that come from raising the minimum wage. “Dollars on the Margins,” by Matthew Desmond, cites numerous studies that show people sleep better, eat healthier food, are less depressed, and smoke less when they get a raise and can make a decent wage.

“Studies have linked higher minimum wages to decreases in low birth-weight babies, lower rates of teen alcohol consumption and declines in teen births,” Desmond wrote. “A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that between roughly 2,800 and 5,500 premature deaths that occurred in New York City from 2008 to 2012 could have been prevented if the city’s minimum wage had been $15 an hour during that time, instead of a little over $7 an hour.”

Desmond quotes a doctor from San Francisco who says she can see the effects when wages go up.

“[Patients] exercise more. They are less stressed and can quit smoking. Their mental health improves pretty dramatically. Their sleep gets better. And people start eating healthier almost immediately,” the doctor told Desmond. “We will spend an incredible amount on a new heart drug. But if we increased wages by $1, we’d save more lives.”

And not all of the benefits come from being able to afford healthier food or work fewer hours. People feel better about themselves when they get a raise and make more money, and that also affects their well-being.

Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a minimum wage increase last year. It’s not clear yet what he’ll do if a bill gets to his desk again this year. He appears to view a $15-an-hour minimum wage as a threat to his goal of making Vermont more affordable. He’d rather wait for “organic job and wage growth.”

But another way to help the economy is to put more money in the pockets of people who are most likely to spend it. And given all of the other benefits described in “Dollars on the Margins,” can Vermont really afford to not raise the minimum wage?

Posted by Jack Hoffman on February 26, 2019 at 3:41 pm

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