Online Program

Wages and health: Creating a legal dataset of minimum wage rates over 30 years in order to examine social determinants of health

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 : 8:40 a.m. - 8:55 a.m.

Sarah Happy, JD, Public Health Law Research, Philadelphia, PA
We systematically collected state and federal minimum wage laws over a thirty year period in order to examine the role minimum wage rates have as a social determinant of health. Important features of the law were identified and a coding form was created. Laws were coded from 1980-2012.

We found that systematically collecting and coding law over time is feasible. Minimum wage laws differ significantly across states and over time. We identified 18 important dimensions of the laws. In our study period, state law changed for one or more of the observed variables 25 times on average.

There are challenges to creating datasets retrospectively. Over time, laws change in ways that are not apparent from current law. Also, databases of archived statutes are only available going back in time about 20 years. We addressed these challenges by using session laws to recreate the legal texts, making it possible to identify and code the law.

Coding laws over thirty years illustrated that legal datasets can be created to track complicated state and federal policies over time, providing valuable information regarding the evolution of law. This process allowed us to identify significant changes in minimum wage rates as well as variation in how those rates were applied, with groups being excluded based on an employer's size and income. We also identified patterns in the law, finding that state law changes followed changes in federal law. This dataset reflects variation in an important social determinant of health, to be explored in subsequent analyses.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Describe a scientifically rigorous process for tracking and quantifying the development of minimum wage laws over a 30 year time period Describe the challenges involved in creating datasets that track law over long periods of time to discuss the value of the resulting database for practitioners and researchers with legal expertise.

Keyword(s): Law, Social Inequalities

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a lawyer working at the Public Health Law Research Program, where I have spent several years creating legal datasets that examine the evolution of law over twenty years or more. I have spent the last year conducting research on laws relating to wages and employment for use in legal datasets that examine the law as a social determinant of health.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.