Labor policies and wage standards have important implications for worker’s health and well-being. This has led states and local governments to adopt numerous labor protections (e.g., minimum wage increases, paid leave) to improve the health of their workforce. However, recent increases in state preemption--the process by which state governments restrict the legislative authority of lower-level jurisdictions--have stymied local attempts to enact labor laws that exceed federal minimums that protect workers (Scharff, 2017; Riverstone-Newell, 2017). Although scholars argue state preemption threatens public health (Pomeranz & Pertschuk, 2017), little is known about the link between state labor preemption and workers’ health despite calls to quantify these purported consequences across different policy domains and health outcomes (Carr et al., 2020). To fill this gap, this study examines whether state preemption of four labor laws including minimum wage, prevailing wage, paid leave and fair scheduling ordinances are associated with mental health harming outcomes for US workers with a high school education or less. I also assess whether mental health outcomes differ by economic or temporal dimensions of state labor preemption, and explore whether outcomes vary by worker’s sex, income and race.
Using 2019 data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Survey (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019) merged with state preemption law measures (Economic Policy Institute, 2019) and 2019 state-level covariates (US Bureau of Labor, 2019), I employ a series of weighted bivariate and multivariate logistic regression models to examine whether (1) the number of state preemption laws, or (2) the type of state preemption laws enacted are associated with poor mental health. Models are stratified by worker’s sex, income and race to assess for variation in outcomes across subgroups.
Findings indicate female workers that lived in states that enacted multiple preemptive labor laws were at significantly higher odds of reporting poor mental health as compared with female workers who lived in states with no preemption. This relationship was pronounced for low income and Hispanic females. When considering whether the effects of economic or temporal dimensions of state labor preemption exacerbated poor mental health, I found state preemption of temporal-based preemption laws such as fair scheduling ordinances significantly increased the likelihood of poor mental health for female workers, and low income and Hispanic females in particular. Notably, I found no statistically significant associations between any amount or type of state preemption and poor mental health for male workers, suggesting that the mental health consequences of state preemption disproportionately impact female workers.
This study considers the influence of state policy contexts on health inequities and provides new insights about the association between state labor preemption laws and the mental health of workers across the US. Findings support growing concerns that increases in state preemption may have significant consequences for population health (Carr et al., 2020; Crosbie & Schmidt, 2020; Montez, 2020; Pomeranz & Pertschuk, 2017; Wolf et al., 2021). This study has important implications for policymakers and advances a health in all policies agenda for promoting equity.