Donald J. Trump wasn’t the only big winner of the November 8th election. The tenuous future of science and medicine, the Affordable Care Act, and women’s reproductive rights aside, public health made some big gains last week, as Americans voted for measures that will significantly affect the social determinants of health in their communities. Let’s take a look at some of these victories.
Minimum Wage Increases
Arizona, Colorado, and Maine voted to raise their minimum wages to $12 an hour by 2020, a gain of more than $3.75 in all three states. Washington will raise its minimum wage by $4.03 to $13.50 an hour in the same time frame. A successful initiative in Maine will increase the base pay for tipped workers. And voters in South Dakota struck down a referendum that would lower wages for workers under 18.
New laws in Washington and Arizona also require employers to provide paid sick leave, a major gain for the 45% of Americans living without such paid protections.
Boulder, Colorado; Cook County, Illinois; and three cities in California all passed soda taxes last week. San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany, California are enacting a penny per ounce tax, the same as in neighboring Berkeley, which passed its measure in 2014. Boulder voted for a two cent per ounce tax.
It’s too early to tell if soda taxes have any significant impact on decreasing the prevalence of chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes. But since it passed its soda tax in 2014, Berkeley has seen a 20% drop in sugary drink consumption. And a year after Mexico passed a soda tax in 2014, research showed a 6% decline in purchases of sugary beverages and a 4% increase in sales of untaxed beverages.
Cities across the nation passed measures to make housing more affordable for its lowest income citizens. In Baltimore, voters passed an affordable housing trust fund that would provide rental assistance and create community land trusts to help low-income residents. In Boston, Portland, and Los Angeles, increases in property taxes will go toward funding more affordable housing units. Developers in Los Angeles will now be required to provide a certain number of condos or apartments in new buildings for low-income residents.
Rhode Island will issue bonds to fund affordable housing and urban revitalization, and Alameda County in California approved a bond to create more affordable rentals and programs that will assist with down payments and home loans. Cities like Asheville and San Diego will see a marked increase in the number of new affordable housing units.