HPAE Testimony in Favor of Raising the Minimum Wage for NJ Workers to $15 Over the Next 5 Years

Testimony of Bridget Devane, Public Policy Director, HPAE

In Support of S15

Good morning. Thank you, Chairman Madden and members of the Committee and S15 sponsors Senator Vitale and Sweeney for the opportunity to testify in support of S15, which raises the minimum wage for NJ workers to $15 over the next 5 years.

I am Bridget Devane, Public Policy Director of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), representing 12,000 nurses and healthcare workers in NJ hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.

Jobs in healthcare can provide an entry into the middle class with benefits, but not for everyone. While many in healthcare make more than $15 an hour, there are many who make less, even after years of caring for our elderly and ill.

In one local example, a recreational aide in a nursing home working with elderly patients for 10 years still makes only $13 an hour. Her colleague, a nursing assistant for 23 years is paid $16.50 an hour. With starting pay of $10.90, aides at this very typical nursing home will take almost 15 years to get to a $15 an hour wage.

We all will rely on home health aides and nursing assistants to care for our elderly in nursing homes and to visit home bound patients. The low wages they are paid unfortunately reflects our misplaced priorities. They are also mostly women, earning the lowest pay in the healthcare industry, with hourly wages ranging from below $11 an hour for home health aides and under $13 for nursing assistants. According to federal statistics (BNA), mean wages for nursing assistants in 2015 ranged between $12 and $13 an hour in the NY-NJ area, depending on the type of facility.

The lack of benefits in many low-wage jobs deepens the financial struggle and juggle between work and family. S.15 will help correct the gender and racial wage gaps and narrow the growing income inequality in New Jersey and across our country.

A $15 an hour minimum wage would benefit more than 600,000 New Jerseyans and would be especially meaningful to households headed by women, and to African American and Latino families. Women working full-time year-round still make only 80 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. In communities of color, the wage gap is even more egregious, with African American women paid only 64% and Latinas only 59% of what white men are paid.

Hospitals, nursing homes and home care agencies, including those in NJ, share responsibility for wage disparities. While some healthcare professions provide a path to a middle-class life, many offer wages that fall well below a living wage for families.

Common-sense policies like wage equality is an investment in our families and our childrens’ futures. Building strong families and a path to the middle class should be everyone’s mission. Thank you for your support.