Economic Research, Policy, and Infant Health

November 09, 2017|4:48 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

In 2014, the U.S. infant mortality rate was 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, well above other comparable countries, including Japan (2.1), France (3.5), and the United Kingdom (3.9). Meanwhile, the percent of births with low birthweight, a leading cause of infant mortality, was 8.1 percent in 2015. Recent research on the relationship between state minimum wage laws and infant mortality and low birthweight is expanding the understanding of how social and economic factors impact health.

State health officials are uniquely positioned to affect child health outcomes in their states and communities to successfully engage partners and implement interventions through state health agencies at the state and local levels. The Public Health 3.0 model also calls on public health leaders to embrace the role of chief health strategist by “partnering across multiple sectors and leveraging data and resources to address social, environmental, and economic conditions” that affect optimal health for all. Research and data on the health outcomes associated with policy areas that have traditionally been beyond the scope of public health can provide the data public health needs as it engages new partners and implements interventions with other sectors to improve population health.

Since 2013, voters in several states have approved increases to their state’s minimum wage (e.g., New Jersey, Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, South Dakota, Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington). Several other states, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Vermont, have made recent minimum wage increases through legislation. While analysis of minimum wage laws often focuses on the economic impact, research on specific health outcomes is beginning to emerge.

For example, a team of researchers recently explored the effects of state minimum wage laws on infant mortality and low birthweight rates. After reviewing and analyzing 30 years of state minimum wage laws in every state, they concluded that if “all states in 2014 had increased their minimum wages by 1 dollar, there would likely have been 2,790 fewer low birthweight births and 518 fewer postneonatal deaths for the year.” They also found an association between a dollar increase in the federal minimum wage and a 1% to 2% decrease in low birthweight births and a 4% decrease in infant mortality. According to the researchers, “the implications of these findings for policymakers, advocates, and public health practitioners are noteworthy. The annual social and health cost of preterm or low birthweight births in the United States was at least $26.2 billion in 2005. The pain and suffering from the deaths of so many infants in their first year of life are incalculable.”

Through research such as this, we not only learn about the impact law and policy have on health outcomes, but public health leaders are better positioned to serve as chief health strategists and provide the data they need when partnering across sectors to improve public health. For more information on how economic and other policy approaches impact child health, please visit ASTHO’s Essentials for Childhood Policy Guide.