A Georgetown University professor received a $64,000 grant to complete a study investigating the effects of an increased minimum wage on healthcare workers.
McCourt School of Public Policy professor Krista Ruffini, who received the grant, is an economist whose research focuses on the effect of public policy on labor, education and health in disadvantaged populations. Ruffini will use the grant to examine how raising the minimum wage influences nursing home employees in collaboration with Asvhin Gandhi, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Nursing homes are significant employers of minimum-wage workers, many of whom remain in the long-term care industry throughout their careers, making the nursing home industry an ideal case study. Thanks to the grant, Ruffini and Gandhi will have the resources to gather empirical evidence — or on-the-ground observations — on how minimum wage reforms change the hourly distribution of labor and organizational composition of nursing homes. The grant came from Equitable Growth, a non-profit organization dedicated to research and grantmaking related to promoting economic growth.
The majority of nursing home employees are non-white people and women, demographics that are crucial to the study of the minimum wage, according to Ruffini.
“Women and Black and Hispanic workers are more likely to earn low wages than are men and non-Hispanic white workers,” Ruffini wrote in an email to The Hoya. “So changes in the minimum wage raise interesting questions around pay gaps by gender, race, and ethnicity.”
Inequitable wage earnings are pervasive across demographic groups. As of 2020, women in the United States were paid 82 cents for every dollar their male counterparts made in wages, according to a 2020 report from the National Women’s Law Center. The pay gap between white women and women of color is even greater; compared to white women, Black women make $24,110 less annually and Latina women make $29,098 less annually.
The research team hypothesizes that with a higher minimum wage, workers will remain in their current positions for longer, leading to more experience throughout the field, according to Ruffini.
“We expect that higher minimum wages might reduce the share of workers who leave their employers — in economic jargon, their opportunity cost,” Ruffini wrote. “If we do see fewer workers leaving their employers, we might expect that the firm’s overall workforce becomes more experienced over time.”
The project aims to collect micro-data, or statistics grounded in the individual experiences of employees in the nursing home industry, according to Gandhi.
“We hope to use the individual-level nature of the data to understand whether minimum wage affects who firms hire and fire,” Gandhi wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The micro-data will offer a variety of measures to observe the effect of wage changes, according to Ruffini.
“Our data provide us with a daily measure of hours worked for each worker, so we can track things like how many hours an employee works; whether that worker’s schedule becomes more or less stable (e.g.: whether the worker works the same weekly schedule); whether the worker is working part-time or overtime hours; and whether the worker is newly hired or leaves his/her position,” Ruffini wrote.
Collecting empirical evidence on the distribution of hours among workers and scheduling practices is critical to understanding how minimum wage increases affect employees’ working lives, according to Korin Davis, the academic program director at Equitable Growth.
“There is a large literature exploring the tension between increasing minimum wages in order to raise the hourly wages of workers, and having these increases off-set by reductions in overall employment or hours worked by low-wage employees,” Davis wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Therefore, understanding the distributional impacts of minimum wage increases is essential.”
McCourt School Dean Maria Cancian said the study may result in key findings for agencies to inform their decisions about minimum wage.
“I look forward to the results, and how they may inform proposals around minimum wage at the federal and local levels,” Cancian wrote in an email to The Hoya.