Opportunity for Health

Economic Vulnerability Among US Female Health Care Workers: Potential Impact of a $15-per-Hour Minimum Wage

Atheendar S. Venkataramani, MD, PhD · Kathryn E. W. Himmelstein, MD, MSEd
American Journal of Public Health · January 16, 2019


To investigate racial/ethnic and gender inequities in the compensation and benefits of US health care workers and assess the potential impact of a $15-per-hour minimum wage on their economic well-being.


Using the 2017 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey, we compared earnings, insurance coverage, public benefits usage, and occupational distribution of male and female health care workers of different races/ ethnicities. We modeled the impact of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour with different scenarios for labor demand.


Of female health care workers, 34.9% of earned less than $15 per hour. Nearly half of Black and Latina female health care workers earned less than $15 per hour, and more than 10% lacked health insurance. A total of 1.7 million female health care workers and their children lived in poverty. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would reduce poverty rates among female health care workers by 27.1% to 50.3%.


Many US female health care workers, particularly women of color, suffer economic privation and lack health insurance. Achieving economic, gender, and racial/ethnic justice will require significant changes to the compensation structure of health care.