Monday, June 16, 2014

Advancing Health Equity by sharing data

As part of our Advancing Health Equity agenda, the Minnesota Department of Health has been looking for ways to ensure that all people in Minnesota have the opportunity to be healthy. One way is to address the social determinants of health. Since income is probably the most influential social determinant of health, we welcomed the opportunity to submit a White Paper to the legislature on “Income and Health.” (PDF: 936KB/36 pages). That paper helped broaden the conversation around the minimum wage bill that was in front of our legislature. Our report showed that raising the income of the lowest paid workers had a significant impact on improving their health. People began to see minimum wage as a public health issue, not just a jobs issue. I believe our report helped move the discussion along at the Capitol that led to passage of a minimum wage bill in MN that increases the minimum wage to $9.50/hour and links it with inflation.

Our report has also been read by people in multiple community organizations and used in their efforts to enhance the economic stability of members of their community. One of those groups is Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), a group representing the cleaning crews for the Target Corporation. They used the MDH report in negotiating with Target for improved, wages, benefits, and working conditions. Following those negotiations, Target announced last week that they are adopting a Responsible Contractor Policy, the first of its kind in the retail industry. Here is a link to the CTUL website: http://ctul.net/overview-of-march-for-justice-in-retail-cleaning/victory/.

To me, using data to define the context of what creates health and getting that information and analysis into the hands of the people/communities most impacted by existing policies, systems, and programs is one of the ways in which public health can help assure that everyone has the opportunity to be healthy. It can sometimes be difficult to see the impact of this kind of analysis on the health of individuals, but I think this is one circumstance where the application of work done at MDH will make a significant difference to folks at the bottom of wage scale and their families. Most people will not make the connection between public health and the CTUL/Target settlement but it will show up in the health statistics that we will see over the next decade – an outcome that should be a source of pride for all of us in public health.

Ed