By William Gettman
Earlier this month, Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm, conducted and released a survey on the 200 highest-paid CEOs. The results were startling in their contrast to what the average private sector or nonprofit worker has experienced.
Pay for top business executives grew at double the rate of ordinary workers’ salaries. The median CEO received compensation of over $18 million, a $ 1.1 million raise from the prior year. In many cases, the CEO packages were not based on performance or even high rates of corporate growth.
In contrast, the average private sector worker received an increase of 84 cents an hour. For the human services worker that provides child care, mental health services, foster care support and more, the salary increases were even lower. For human services staff, increases were in the 2% range or 30 cents per hour.
Yet compared to peers in the private sector, nonprofit human services workers are dramatically underpaid: While the average New Yorker earns $67,500 annually, the average human services worker in New York earns only $27,800. Many workers in the sector are forced to rely on the same public assistance programs as the clients they serve.
More than 400,000 individuals work in human services across New York State and support families and children of all income brackets in every county. Yet 25% of the dedicated staff need to work a second job and 5% work three jobs to make ends meet. Our state depends on and values services provided by nonprofits for the elderly, young and those with special needs. Nearly 80 percent of human services workers are women, and more than half are people of color.
Low wages lead to a crisis in recruitment and retention as high employee turnover reduces the quality of care the sector can provide. Recruitment, retention, cost of living: These are many of the same issues the members of the pay raise commission were addressing when they came out in support of higher pay for elected public officials in the State Legislature and the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller.
The value of critical service providers must change. Advocates, good government groups, chambers of commerce and the private sector must realize the value to our economy and quality of life that human services staff and their agencies provide. An underfunded and resourced human service sector is detrimental to new businesses coming to New York and adding to our economy and tax base.
It is time to recognize the impact and value of the front-line human services workforce. When CEOs receive large raises counted in millions, 30 cents per hour is not enough, fair or ethical.
William Gettman is CEO of Northern Rivers Family of Services in Albany.