By William T. Gettman Jr.
According to recent reports, Americans saw the largest annual rise in real income in almost 50 years, with 3.5 million lifted out of poverty as the economy grew and jobs increased.
For the not for-profit community, the increase in real income has not been realized for those staff that perform awesome work. In fact, the low and often suppressed wages and benefits provided not-for-profit workers, especially those with direct care responsibilities, have not keep up with economic trends. The not-for-profit network of service delivery is nearing collapse due to the inability of agencies to hire and retain direct care workers and their supervisors, and related issues of minimum wage competition.
New York’s not-for-profit workforce is not only hard working but also an economic engine. Across New York State, one in seven workers is employed by a not-for-profit organization.
These workers contribute billions to the state’s economic health, including the payment of income, sales and property tax. Beyond the economic impact, the not-for-profit workforce, especially the direct care staff in child welfare, mental health, child care, aging, health and developmental disability programs care for hundreds of thousand of individuals with unique and special mental health, social, health and physical needs.
These consumers range from young children in foster care and day care settings to teens and adults served in outpatient clinics, day programs and specialized treatment settings.
Today, thousands of job openings exist in the NFP world. Nonprofit executives report they had trouble filling jobs starting about five years ago, because of the low pay for challenging work, which has historically paid more than the minimum wage. Upcoming minimum wage increases and growing competition from other employers are expected to make it harder.
While the state’s minimum wage increase is a good thing for many, it will have unintended and negative consequences for the not-for-profit sector. In order for not-for-profits to compete with the private sector for quality workforce, they will need state support to help pay for rising salaries.
More than ever, we must make the human services workforce a priority. We urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature to replicate the successful “Fight for Fair Pay” campaign for the human services not-for-profit workforce.
We will be serving our vulnerable children, adults and families for years to come, and we must have a workforce ready for those changes by being fairly compensated, well-trained and equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. The investment and impact will be good for all of New York’s citizens and communities and guarantee a brighter future.
William T. Gettman Jr. is CEO of Northern Rivers Family of Services in Albany.