Income: Lower wages come at cost to public health

For too many Americans, good health is something they can't afford.

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  1. As health care costs continue to rise, many people feel the pinch in paying for their health care. And for too many others, not having enough money can make their health worse.
  2. Many people crowd the street in old Riga at dusk; shops, hotels and restaurant signs light up the street.
    Many people crowd the street in old Riga at dusk; shops, hotels and restaurant signs light up the street.
  3. Income is a social determinant of health, a factor outside your genes and lifestyle that can influence how healthy a person is or is not. In fact, income might be the biggest social determinant — it starts when someone is young and touches every aspect of life.
  4. Mother and daughter unpacking groceries in kitchen
    Mother and daughter unpacking groceries in kitchen
  5. People with lower incomes tend to have poorer health, according to decades of research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Health. And on top of that, people who have low incomes are also less likely to have health insurance, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
  6. AURORA, CO - AUGUST 9: Michelle Loose, a University of Denver accelerated nursing student, checks the blood pressure for patient Elife Bzuneh, during a medical clinic night at the DAWN clinic on August 9, 2016, in Aurora, Colorado. DAWN is a student-run clinic established to serve uninsured patients in Aurora at no cost. It opened in March 2015. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
    AURORA, CO - AUGUST 9: Michelle Loose, a University of Denver accelerated nursing student, checks the blood pressure for patient Elife Bzuneh, during a medical clinic night at the DAWN clinic on August 9, 2016, in Aurora, Colorado. DAWN is a student-run clinic established to serve uninsured patients in Aurora at no cost. It opened in March 2015. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
  7. Wealth's effect on a person's health can influence their lifespan. The World Economic Forum shows that life expectancy can vary by more than a decade between people with high and low income. A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that that gap can go even higher, up to 14 years between high and low incomes.
  8. But economic impact on health is more than a rich-poor divide. Income inequality is a major issue in the U.S., as white men substantially out-earn their black and Hispanic peers. Only Asian men earn more than white men, according to the Pew Research Center.
  9. For women, the wage gap is even greater. Asian women only earn 87 percent of what white men make; white women earn 82 percent, black women earn 65 percent and Hispanic women earn just 58 percent of what white men make. Despite efforts to close the gap, the needle has not moved much in several decades.
  10. And the effects of wealth on health start before people begin earning an income. Kids who grow up in low-income households are more likely to face chronic disease and poor health throughout their lives, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.
  11. Monica Bejarano and husband Robert Harris have brought their four-month-old daughter Bianka Harris into the clinic for a well-child visit. Dr. Rachel Miller, right, shows the couple their daughter's growth progress on her lap top. Clinica, a group of federal health clinics in the region use innovative phone answering, pods, and statistical measurements as well as factory methods to make care more efficient. This location in Thornton serves the surrounding community of the underserved and uninsured. Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post  (Photo By Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
    Monica Bejarano and husband Robert Harris have brought their four-month-old daughter Bianka Harris into the clinic for a well-child visit. Dr. Rachel Miller, right, shows the couple their daughter's growth progress on her lap top. Clinica, a group of federal health clinics in the region use innovative phone answering, pods, and statistical measurements as well as factory methods to make care more efficient. This location in Thornton serves the surrounding community of the underserved and uninsured. Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post (Photo By Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
  12. In fact, wealth can affect whether a child lives or not. In a study published in the June issue of APHA's American Journal of Public Health, researchers found that between 2,800 and 5,500 premature deaths could have been avoided between 2008 and 2012 if New York City's minimum wage had been increased to $15.
  13. Yet the federal minimum wage remains at just $7.25 — despite research that shows increasing minimum wage is good for both the economy and public health.
  14. And because a person's income can affect where they live, what kind of education they get, what they eat and more, it can also be an added stress. That can and does affect mental health — a Gallup poll shows that people with lower incomes report having worse mental health than their wealthier counterparts.
  15. Public health has made addressing social determinants of health a priority. The Nation's Health continues to cover social determinants and how they affect people's lives in its latest series. And leaders from all sectors are working together to address inequalities and improve health nationwide.
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