Monday, May 4, 2015

Report: Pennsylvania Subsidizes Poverty Wages at Nursing Homes

Dan Heyman, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: A study of state nursing home workers has found many don’t make enough to live on, and they have to rely on outside income including public assistance. Picture courtesy of the Service Employees International Union.
PHOTO: A study of state nursing home workers has found many don’t make enough to live on, and they have to rely on outside income including public assistance. Picture courtesy of the Service Employees International Union.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - According to a new study, Pennsylvania taxpayers are essentially paying twice for some poverty wages at state nursing homes.

Stephen Herzenberg, executive director with the Keystone Research Center, says their new study found the private nursing home industry pays nurses' aids and kitchen and janitorial workers below what is a living wage for even a small family in almost every part of the state.

He says the wages are so low, that public safety-net programs act as a hidden subsidy for a for-profit industry.

"Nursing homes get over two thirds of their money from the taxpayer," says Herzenberg. "And the taxpayer gets hit a second time because so many nursing home workers have to rely on public assistance."

The report is titled, "Double Trouble: Taxpayer-Subsidized Low-Wage Jobs in Pennsylvania Nursing Homes." It says aids average $13 an hour and support workers get $10 to $11. Herzenberg says more than half the workers surveyed said it wasn't enough to live on and they had to have other work or take public assistance.

He says a minimum starting wage of $15 per hour would improve care by reducing stress and turnover. Plus he says it would actually create jobs, because those workers would generate more consumer demand, while reducing the need for public assistance.

"It would benefit nearly 50,000 Pennsylvania workers," says Herzenberg. "While improving the quality of care and the good news is you get some of that money back."

Herzenberg says an industry that pays CEOs as much as 600 times what the front line caregivers make can afford to raise wages. Plus, he says the raises might actually pay off for the company in the long-run.

"Each time someone quits in a nursing home and they have to find a new worker, it costs an estimated $3,500, so you'd have a lot of savings from reduced turnover," he says.

Nursing home corporations say the low wages help them keep costs down, but Herzenberg says wages represent a small portion of costs.

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