Poverty is a health threat: AMA

Association says inflation-adjusted minimum wage laws would reduce poverty and improve health, especially among communities of color.

The American Medical Association (AMA) believes that poverty is a health threat, and wants governments at all levels to fight it by adjusting minimum wage laws to keep up with inflation.

At its annual House of Delegates meeting Monday, the AMA adopted a policy affirming that poverty is detrimental to health, and calling for federal, state and local policies on minimum wages that include adjustments for inflation.

“Simply put, decreasing poverty improves health,” AMA trustee David H. Aizuss, M.D. said in a statement. “Too many people are working full-time jobs – sometimes more than one job – and are unable to rise above poverty wages. That must change.”

 Aizuss added that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated differences in access to health care and other social inequities such as economic, food and housing insecurity among communities of color and other historically marginalized populations—“all highlighting in stark relief the fact that people with low incomes have worse health outcomes.”

According to the AMA’s statement, 10% of the country’s population lives in poverty, and many working people can’t afford the essentials they need to stay healthy. It adds that “Studies have shown that high levels of income inequality are associated with “lower life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, obesity, mental illness, homicide, and other measures compared to populations with a more equitable income distribution.”

Moreover, “a large body of research on wage, income, and health finds that policy interventions striving to increase the incomes of low-income populations will improve both economic measures (increasing income equality and economic security) and health measures (lower mortality rates, improve overall population health status, decrease health inequity, and lower overall health care costs).”

The AMA says that the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour translates to an annual wage of $15,080 for a 40-hour week, an amount insufficient for a single parent to support a single child above the federal poverty line. But increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour has been predicted to raise family income for 14.4 million children, or nearly one-fifth of all U.S. children, according to the statement.

The AMA cites the declining value of the minimum wage as a “key driver of the growth of inequality between low-wage and middle-wage workers since the late 1970s.” Moreover, since Black and Hispanic individuals and families are disproportionately represented among minimum wage workers, the minimum wage has exacerbated race-based health inequities.

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