AMA: Low-wage work exacerbates health inequalities

One in 10 Americans lives in poverty. Most are employed, but are still struggling to afford it to stay healthy. The social determinants of health – which include education, housing, wealth, income and employment – are “affected by larger, more powerful systems that lead to discrimination, exploitation, marginalization, exclusion and isolation”, according to a report whose recommendations were adopted in 2022 AMA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

“There is a widespread consensus that low-income populations have poorer health outcomes,” said a report released by the AMA’s Medical Services Council. “This exacerbates health inequalities, as women and people of color (many of whom provide for families) are more likely to earn low wages. Blacks and Latinos and families are disproportionately represented among low-wage workers.

Research on wages, incomes and health shows that policies to increase the wages of low-income people will improve their health status and reduce health care costs, the council’s report said.

“Simply put, poverty reduction improves health,” said AMA Trustee David H. Eisus, Ph.D. “The COVID-19 pandemic created both public health and an economic crisis that exposed and exacerbated access to care and other social inequalities.

Not only has the pandemic affected disproportionately minority and marginalized communities, but economic insecurity, housing insecurity and food insecurity have disproportionately burdened colored communities and other historically marginalized groups – all emphasizing with greater relief that people with said Dr. Aizus, a certified ophthalmologist living in Calabasas, California.

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“Too many people work full time – sometimes more than one job – and are unable to rise above the wages of poverty,” added Dr. Eisus. “That needs to change.”

Whether to do so by raising the minimum wage has sparked political and economic debate.

Some politicians have called for local or regional adjustments to the federal minimum wage, but that would not take into account the different costs of living in the United States, the council’s report said. Wages also do not always reflect skills or work risk.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that set the minimum wage above the federal minimum. Any value set at the minimum wage will fall apart over time, the council’s report acknowledged. “There are significant complications and unintended consequences inherent in the choice of an index for permanent adjustment of the minimum wage,” the report said.

In the light of the report’s findings, the AMA House of Delegates (HOD) has adopted a policy that “poverty is detrimental to health”.

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Delegates also adopted a policy confirming that federal, state or local minimum wage policies should:

  • Include plans to adjust the minimum wage in the future and explain how these adjustments keep pace with inflation.
  • Be consistent with the AMA’s commitment to oppose policies that create greater health inequalities and be a voice for our most vulnerable populations, who will suffer the most from such policies, further exacerbating existing gaps. in the health and well-being of our nation.
  • Comply with the AMA’s principle that the highest attainable standard of health in all its dimensions is a fundamental human right and that optimizing the social determinants of health is an ethical obligation of civil society.
  • Include an explanation of how variations in geographical cost of living have been taken into account.

Read about other highlights from the 2022 AMA Annual Meeting.

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