In 2015 the Pittsburgh Wage Review Committee Issued a report on lower-wage hospital workers. This report highlighted that lower-wage workers have many strengths and display remarkable resilience and resourcefulness in the face multiple hardships: food insecurity, housing instability, utility cutoffs, and difficulties affording health care or medication. Workers earning low wages often report living from paycheck-to-paycheck, using public benefits or assistance from non-profit groups, and juggling bills to make ends meet. Those who are parents describe struggling to provide for their children.

Following this report, the Pittsburgh Wage Study was started to look further into these issues and the lives of lower-wage workers. With support from the Heinz Endowments, the University of Pittsburgh Social Service Research Initiative, the Pittsburgh Wage Study began work to better understand the lives of lower-wage hospital workers employed by one of the region’s two major healthcare systems. In addition to our study of hospital service workers, members of our team have begun to investigate how low wages affect other groups of workers, non-profit organizations, parent-child relationships, and unionization efforts. These studies utilize a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods. These supplementary studies have been supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the NASW Foundation.

We have continued doing research with healthcare workers through the COVID-19 pandemic. In the spring of 2020, we completed the third wave of our mixed methods hospital study focused on service, technical, and clerical workers. The following spring, in 2021, we surveyed nurses and service workers in four city hospitals to better understand the effect of working during the pandemic. Currently, we are working on a large report of hospital workers across 11 city hospitals to publicly examine how lacking PPE and other necessary supplies, rampant understaffing, abuse and harassment from patients and visitors, and working long hours among other factors have affected the well-being of hospital workers. We look forward to continuing to provide research relevant to our community to support ongoing labor justice for healthcare workers.

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Pittsburgh Wage Study Research Initiatives’

Logo for the Pittsburgh Hospital Workers SurveyPittsburgh Hospital Workers Survey

In the spring of 2022 it became increasingly clear that a healthcare labor crisis was occurring in Pittsburgh hospitals. Mayor Ed Gainey and his transition team asked us to complete a survey of hospital workers to determine what they needed to remain at or return to the bedside. We began to work with local community partners to create a Hospital Worker Steering Committee to help us design a survey to amplify the voices of Pittsburgh Hospital Workers. Over 2,000 Pittsburgh hospital workers participated in the study and a public report will be available at the end of April. We will be continuing to use these data to help inform policy-makers and other stakeholders about how to support hospital workers. Click here to see the public website for this survey.  

The Hospital Workers Study

Supported by the Heinz Endowments and the Social Science Research Initiative at the University of Pittsburgh, the main goal of this study is to document the effects of incremental wage increases negotiated through a service union at a local hospital on the lives of hospital workers. We accomplish this with a longitudinal, mixed methods study including annual surveys and in-depth interviews. Findings shed light on hospital service workers’ experiences with material hardships, physical and mental health concerns, savings, participation in employer benefits, public benefit use, relations with their families and communities, and feelings about their jobs. Click here to learn more about this study. 

The Security Guards Study

The goal of this research is to examine the effects of wage increases on security guards, another group of lower wage workers.  Like the hospital service workers we have been studying, security guards have formed a union and recently negotiated a contract with their employers that will increase their wages toward $15 an hour over the next several years.  We are surveying the security guards to understand how these incremental wage increases impact their lives. Click here to learn more about this study. 

The Human Services Organization Study

In Pennsylvania, the governor has proposed raising the minimum wage starting with an increase to $12 and then annual 50 cent increases until it reaches $15 an hour.  In this qualitative study, we are conducting in-depth interviews with 20 human service leaders of organizations of varying size to understand the potential effects of raising the minimum wage on human service organizations. Click here to learn more about this study. 

Understanding the Effects of the Benefits Cliff on Low-wage Workers and their Young Children

In our work with hospital workers, we were surprised to find low uptake of public benefits. Local policy makers were concerned that low-income families may not be taking advantage of these programs or may be experiencing a “benefits cliff.” The “benefits cliff” describes the reduction in eligibility for means-tested public supports that occurs as wages increase, which can be experienced as a sudden loss of benefits or decreasing support that cancels out the effects of wage increases. This research, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will explore these concerns through interviews with parents of young children. Click here to learn more about this study. 

Testimony Research

This research analyzes public testimony given before the Pittsburgh Wage Review Committee. This committee was convened by former City Councilman Burgess to examine wages in the region and included our own Jeff Shook as a Committee Member. These public records demonstrate how hospital workers and hospital administrators differ in their justifications about wage levels and wage advocacy in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Click here to learn about this research.

An Examination of How Low-Wage Single Parents Navigate Work, School, and Home Systems to Promote Child Well-being

This study examines how parents navigate the complex terrain of home, work, school, and their personal parenting values when working jobs that have been documented to create barriers to parenting. This exploratory research uses in-depth interviewing to understand how parents perceive their parenting is affected by institutional supports and barriers at both their workplace and their children’s elementary schools. Click here to learn more about this study.