SOCIAL ISSUES

NJ official touts health benefits of $15 minimum wage

BY Joanna Gagis, Producer/Correspondent |

Employees at RWJBarnabas Health earning minimum wage will soon see a significant pay increase and it could have a direct impact on their health outcomes, according to Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal.

“A landmark study showed that for every dollar minimum wage goes up, low birth weight goes down by 1 to 2 percent, and infant mortality goes down by 4 percent from baseline,” Elnahal said. “Another study showed that raising the minimum wage by $1 reduces child neglect reports by almost 10 percent, so we’re talking about social stability that leads to direct impacts to child health.”

The study by the American Journal of Public Health looked at the link between low income and poor health nationwide.

“We know that social determinants of health, like economic instability, food insecurity, a lack of affordable housing, unsafe living environments, play a huge role in life expectancy and health outcomes. These factors drive not only whether you have access to nutritious foods, but also to health care and medications that your family depends on. It allows you to afford health care coverage,” Elnahal said.

The governor made the same case as he pushed for a statewide minimum wage increase.

“A living wage is an antidepressant. It is a sleep aid, a diet, a stress reliever. It is a contraceptive preventing teenage pregnancy. It prevents premature death,” Murphy said during his budget address.

Over a million people will be impacted by the minimum wage increase according to state officials. And at RWJBarnabas Health, an underwriter of NJTV News, 3,500 of its 35,000 employees will get a bump. But in a state where health care is already expensive, who pays for this in the end?

“I think everyone understands that health care is expensive, and not necessarily in a situation now where the price is elastic. So candidly we’re going to have to find efficiencies within the delivery of health care in order to make sure that we can afford important programs such as the new minimum wage,” said RWJBarnabas Health President and CEO Barry Ostrowsky. “Our mission, unlike many other industries, our mission needs to be improving the health of the community, and that’s not simply clinical care.”

Statewide, the minimum wage will increase $1 an hour in July, and will increase by the same amount annually until it hits $15 an hour in 2024. But employees at RWJBarnabas Health will get to that $15 an hour much faster. The goal is by second quarter of next year.