Studying the Relationship Between Wage Increases and Health

On June 30, Minneapolis became the 40th jurisdiction to enact a minimum wage ordinance.  This ordinance incrementally raises the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022 for large businesses and by 2024 for small businesses.

In response, a team at the University of Minnesota is recruiting 450 Minneapolis low-wage workers to monitor their health as their wages increase over the next five years. The “WAGE$” study is funded by a National Institute of Health grant.

Caitlin Caspi, ScD, is the principal investigator on the project. She is an assistant professor

in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota.

Caspi explained that a study on minimum wage is timely as increased minimum wage is currently being examined among many jurisdictions in the U.S. Caspi explained that while there are hypothetical policy ideas to increase low income such as universal basic income, minimum wage increases are the only policy idea widely being put into practice right now. “We are seeing this implemented in real life,” Caspi said.

The study will ideally deescalate a difficult and charged debate around the $15 minimum wage. The hope is that extensive information collected over five years of data collection will support an informed and strong policy debate, resulting in a more thoughtful conversation on something that impacts every Minneapolis resident.

According to Caspi, past research has shown that higher wages are associated with better health. This will be the first national study of its kind to look at the connection between wages and health as incomes increase towards the eventual $15 minimum wage. Caspi explained, “There is an idea that increased wages improve health. If it does improve health what are the pathways? Eating, stability or health access?”

The study will monitor the impact of the ordinance using a variety of indicators; for example, checking pay stubs. One of the narratives around a $15 minimum wage is that employers will cut hours or employees. Therefore, monitoring the pay stubs of numerous workers will be used to track hours and see how that changes over time. However, the researchers understand that not everyone has access to a pay stub, so it is not a requirement to participate in the study.

Researchers will also review food receipts to see whether increased income results in healthier food purchases, as well as monitoring their height, weight and other indicators of health. Other factors that impact health will also be monitored including sleep, stress, commuting and housing.

Caspi mentioned some possible applications of the study results.

  • Community organizations in North Minneapolis want to know if people are losing their housing subsidies due to wage increases.

  • City officials are interested in knowing whether workers are earning the new minimum.

  • For those concerned about access to health care, there is interest in evaluating how often people use medical services and how much they are paying out of pocket.  

  • Obtaining evidence to adjust the study in order to refine the ordinance and measure whether the impact aligns with the intended result.

There is still time for organizations to be engaged in the project. Caspi invites organizations to connect and share their perspectives, stressing that, “If there is a better way we ask a question or if there is a question we are not asking, we can add it in the follow-up.”

For more information, call project manager Amy Shanafelt at 612-624-7673


Filiberto Nolasco Gomez is a former union organizer and former editor of Minneapolis based Workday Minnesota, the first online labor news publication in the state. Filiberto focused on longform and investigative journalism. He has covered topics including prison labor, labor trafficking, and union fights in the Twin Cities.

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