Can Labor Market Policies Reduce Deaths of Despair?


Dow et al. “Can Labor Market Policies Reduce Deaths of Despair?”. Journal of Health Economics, vol. 74, 2020, 102372, doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2020.102372.

Do minimum wages and the earned income tax credit (EITC) mitigate rising “deaths of despair?” We leverage state variation in these policies over time to estimate event study and difference-in-differences models of deaths due to drug overdose, suicide, and alcohol-related causes. Our causal models find no significant effects on drug or alcohol-related mortality, but do find significant reductions in non-drug suicides. A 10 percent minimum wage increase reduces non-drug suicides among low-educated adults by 2.7 percent, and the comparable EITC figure is 3.0 percent. Placebo tests and event-study models support our causal research design. Increasing both policies by 10 percent would likely prevent a combined total of more than 700 suicides each year.