Reducing health disparities should be a priority

BY LYNN BALFOUR

Imagine a city whose policies reduce health disparities rather than create them.  I have lived in the Longfellow neighborhood of South Minneapolis for a little more than 25 years. I’ve worked in the healthcare field for almost 20 years.
I support increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour in Minneapolis.  I was raised in a very low-income family where I can remember eating raw potatoes because I was hungry.  My Mom was a single mother, with three children, who waitressed at the local café.  As an adult I now realize she didn’t earn a lot of money; clearly not enough to keep the pantry stocked with nutritious food.  Those were dark days indeed.  And while I was fortunate enough to attend college and later earned my MBA, I cannot forget where I came from.
The case I am making is based on what I see in my professional career:  that health status and income are inextricably connected. I encourage the minimum wage discussion and ultimate decision to be based on research and evidence of the impact of a wage increase, and not the emotional fears of “what ifs.”  Let’s ground ourselves in data and what it reveals to us instead of fear-based reactions to this important issue.
My three talking points connect income to health status.
Point #1
Consistent with national and international studies, Minnesota data also indicate that income is closely related to health (White Paper on Income and Health, Minnesota Department of Health, March 2014). The lower your income the poorer your health.  Higher income equals better health.  This is not just my opinion.  It is well documented, with research and analysis that demonstrates that the more money you make the better your overall health is.
The correlation between health and income should surprise no one.
Point #2
In their analysis of the minimum wage increase in Minneapolis, the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice projects that households impacted by a minimum wage increase would likely spend $27 more a week to meet their food needs and that 4% to 7% of those households are less likely to be what we call “food insecure.”  (Evaluation of a Minimum Wage Increase in Minneapolis and Hennepin/Ramsey County, Technical Report, Sept. 2016.)
The correlation between more income and more food should surprise no one.
Point #3
Lower incomes in Minnesota are more concentrated among populations of color and American Indians.  Nonwhite workers are more likely than white workers to be impacted by an increase in minimum wage.  If we are serious about reducing healthcare disparities in Minneapolis then let’s acknowledge that income is not only strongly associated with health but with other factors that create opportunity to be healthier, such as employment opportunities, transportation options, and quality of housing.
The connection between income, health, housing and employment should surprise no one.
Minneapolis ought to be a leader in setting policy that creates a city where the opportunity to be healthy is available to everyone.  The $15 minimum wage would set us on the path to raising household income AND reducing healthcare disparities for families and communities of color.

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