Low Wage Earners Can Expect Health Issues in Middle Age

16 Mar, 2023 Chriss Swaney

                               

Pittsburgh, PA (WorkersCompensation.com) -- A history of earning low wages may be linked to a higher risk of death in middle age for American workers, according to a new study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.  

Middle-aged workers who consistently earned low wages were 38 percent more likely to die over the course of 12 years compared with their peers who earned higher wages, the researchers discovered.  

“The findings of this study do not surprise me as we are facing continued high inflation, soaring food and gasoline prices and escalating interest rates, ‘’  said Robert Strauss, a political economist at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College.  “Wages have clearly  not kept pace with the cost of living, ‘’ he added.  

Researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University tracked employment and health metrics for some 4,000 workers in the United States across a 12-year period, using data from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement study collected between 1992 and 2018.  All participants were at least 50 years old at the study’s beginning and in their 60s at the study’s conclusion.   

The risk was more than twice as high for workers who had fluctuating employment along with sustained low wages, the study said.   

Shifts in labor market composition and worker shortages in high-demand areas have helped push up US wages over the past two years, but by and large, those wage gains could not keep pace with high price inflation, researchers reported. 

Adjusting for inflation, wages and salaries declined 1.2 percent for the 12 months ending in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index. 

Experts contend that lower-and-middle income workers in the leisure and hospitality industries, for example, typically saw faster wage growth than higher earners, and some even eked out gains that surpassed inflation. But economist Strauss points out that household incomes remain uneven, and those groups continue to be  disproportionately hurt by higher inflation. 

Data from the study also shows that workers with sustained low wages were significantly more likely than others to report poor or fair health and elevated symptoms of depression, and to never have had health insurance provided by their employer. 

The study noted that wages are unique from many other social determinants of health in that there are actionable policy measures.  The study said wages are a “modifiable and actionable risk factor for potentially improving health and, in particular health inequalities’’ because Black, Hispanic and female workers are disproportionately represented in the low-wage workforce and most likely to benefit from higher wages. 

Lower- and middle-income workers – especially in industries such as leisure and hospitality – typically saw faster wage growth than higher earners, and some even eked out gains that surpassed inflation; however, household incomes remained uneven, and those groups continue to be disproportionately hurt by higher inflation, research shows.

Americans are spending an extra $371 a month because of inflation. The lion’s share of low-income households’ earnings goes toward necessities such as food, gas and rent – categories with higher-than-average and stubbornly high prices.


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    About The Author

    • Chriss Swaney

      Chriss Swaney is a freelance reporter who has written for Antique Trader Magazine, Reuters, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, the Burlington Free Press, UPI, The Tribune-Review and the Daily Record.

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