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The Current State of the Human Service Workforce – Part 2

June 14, 2022

This piece is Part 2 of 2 from the National Human Services Assembly series entitled, “The Current State of the Human Service Workforce,” running in the month of June and culminating with a panel discussion at our 2022 Annual Meeting. It explores the many contributing dynamics to the talent crisis the sector faces and was developed by members of the National Assembly’s board and leadership team. Read Part 1 of the series posted on our blog. 

Despite growing challenges for the human service sector to remain competitive and retain employees and recruit its workforce, there are policy solutions that government and philanthropy can implement. government can create a new frontline worker minimum wage built into agency contracts. In fact, the entire contracting process with nonprofits can be more equitable and responsive to economic realities, such as government contracts including core funding for nonprofits and access to affordable health care benefits (especially for hourly employees). Likewise, Philanthropy can do even greater good by providing unrestricted grants like we have seen the Ballmer Group and Mackenzie Scott integrate into their giving strategies. This puts the trust in the people closest to the community to decide how to use generous gifts most impactfully.   

Some states and cities have already started to recognize these harmful funding structures and are working towards solutions. The Center for New York City Affairs released a report that noted, “Rather than fund services based on an analysis of the actual cost of providing high-quality services and fairly compensating a well-educated workforce, the City contracting process generally functions to reimburse contracted services at the lowest price possible. This system has forced nonprofits to operate at extremely slim margins and reduces the possibility of human service workers earning wages and benefits that are at parity with comparable positions in either the public or the private sector outside of the city-contracted human services sphere.”  In response, the report recommends that the City “adopt a prevailing wage approach and establish a wage and benefits schedule for all contracted human services workers to put them on an equal footing with comparable City employees. These compensation benchmarks should then be incorporated into all contracts, along with the funding to support career advancement and promotion opportunities.” 

This year, the Washington, DC City Council passed D.C. ACT 24-33, a bill to provide one-time payments of 10,000-14,000 to childcare workers and educators to bring about pay parity, and specifically offset the inequity in the pay of early childhood educators and public-school teachers. The plan includes a longer-term increase in wages. Internationally, Australian human service workers pay fewer taxes; in Ireland and the UK, the government offers core funding to support staff and nonprofits. 

The truth is we are dependent on the frontline workers every day. They deserve to be paid a living wage, receive wage increases, and have access to benefits. The policy solutions being raised and implemented in parts of this country and around the world are worthy of our time. Human service workers are the backbone of our communities, and we have to work to support them the way they support us. 

Join us on June 22 for the National Human Services Assembly 2022 Annual Meeting where we will discuss this issue more and introduce other ideas for addressing the crisis with experts in the field, plus a unique opportunity for a “Sector Speak-Out Session” to continue the dialogue.