HealthDay News — Many U.S. female health care workers, particularly women of color, live in poverty and lack health insurance, according to a study published online Dec. 20 in the American Journal of Public Health.

Kathryn E.W. Himmelstein, M.D., and Atheendar S. Venkataramani, M.D., Ph.D., both from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, used data from the 2017 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey to compare earnings, insurance coverage, public benefits usage, and occupational distribution of male and female health care workers of differing races and ethnicities. In addition, the researchers modeled the impact of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour with different scenarios for labor demand.

The researchers found that 34.9 percent of female health care workers earned less than $15 per hour. Among black and Latina female health care workers, 48.9 and 49.9 percent, respectively, earned less than $15 per hour, and 10.6 and 10.2 percent, respectively, lacked health insurance. Approximately 1.7 million female health care workers and their children lived in poverty, but raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would reduce poverty rates among female health care workers by 27.1 to 50.3 percent.

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“Achieving economic, gender, and racial/ethnic justice will require significant changes to the compensation structure of health care,” the authors write.

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