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Study finds a link between low wages and mortality risk 

According to a study published in JAMA earlier this week, middle-aged workers with a history of low-paid work have a higher mortality risk. The risk is even higher for those with an unstable employment history but consistently low pay. 

For the study, researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health tracked 4,000 workers over a period of 12 years using data collected from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study collected between 1992 and 2018. 

They looked at data that was related to the participant’s health and employment over the course of the study, and they found that workers with a history of low wages were 38% more likely to die between their early 50s and late 60s. A history of low wages was defined as having annual earnings below the poverty line for a family of four. 

The risk was almost double for workers who had sustained low wages and unsteady employment, compared to those who had never experienced a low salary. 

Furthermore, the authors of the study pointed out that there are well-known links between socioeconomic status and health, and that wages “capture aspects of both income and occupation that may impact health in distinct ways.” 

They continue to say that workers with low wages are among the “most vulnerable in the workforce,” as they are disproportionately employed in positions with high stress, exposure to workplace hazards, and other health risks. 

The study also found that lower-paid workers were significantly more likely to report symptoms of depression and to say they had poor or fair physical health compared with those in higher-paid positions. They were also more likely to have never had health insurance coverage provided by their employer. 

The researchers added: “Sustained low-wage earning may be associated with elevated mortality risk and excess deaths, especially when experienced alongside unstable employment. If causal, our findings suggest that social and economic policies that improve the financial standing of low-wage workers (eg, minimum wage laws) could improve mortality outcomes.”

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