America’s rising suicide rate, up 35 percent since 2000, deserves more attention than it’s been getting. A recent report in The Washington Post suggests that pursuing policies that help the working class might help.
“Researchers have found that when the minimum wage in a state increased, or when states boosted a tax credit for working families, the suicide rate decreased,” the story said.
It cited a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research that predicted a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage, along with a 10 percent increase in the federal earned-income tax credit (EITC), could prevent 1,230 people from killing themselves each year.
These policies, the research indicates, would benefit lesser-educated, lower-wage workers who are the primary group affected by what some experts call “deaths of despair.”
Generally, this group is made up of middle-aged white people. In fact, the suicide rate for whites continues to rise rapidly — in 2017 it was 18 per 100,000 people — while the rates for black people, Hispanics and Asians has increased by a much smaller amount over the past two decades.
University of California at Berkeley economists and public health specialists compared suicides in states that have increased the minimum wage and EITC supplement with those that have not.
They found little change in the number of intentional or accidental drug-related deaths. But suicides not related to drugs decreased noticeably in states that raised wages and income tax credits.
Among adults without a college education, increasing the EITC by 10 percent decreased non-drug suicides by 5.5 percent. Raising the minimum wage decreased these deaths by 3.6 percent.
The rising suicide rate is a symptom of a surprising, and apparently growing, level of unhappiness among Americans. It seems that more of us are never satisfied with what we have.
This may be the next research topic for economists and public health specialists: In the richest country on Earth, in the land of great opportunity, how can there not be enough?