Content from this article was adapted from the King County Alliance for Human Services press release after the publication of the King County Wage Survey.
The hourly wage that one adult, one preschooler, and one school age child in King County needs to survive in 2020 was $38.85/hour, and adjusted for inflation, that amount is $42.37/hour in 2022, according to a study conducted by the UW School of Social Work.
Last month, 501 Commons published the King County Wage Survey. This survey has brought clear data and analysis to demonstrate what we have long known: human service workers are significantly underpaid and undervalued. The people who take care of our children, provide healthcare in community-based clinics, help people without homes connect to resources, engage our elders, support our young children and youth, and care for people with disabilities are often paid at such a low level that they qualify for public support programs themselves. Their pay does not reflect the education required, difficulty, or value of their work to build economic, emotional, physical, developmental, and social well-being for all community members.
Neighborhood House is a member of the King County Alliance for Human Services, which was formed in 2001 in response to efforts to cut all funding for human services out of King County’s budget. Since then, with federal disinvestment in housing and human services continuing and economic inequality rising rapidly, local governments such as the City of Seattle and King County have stepped up and invested in human services as a way to build well-being and strong communities, but investment has not yet changed the historical legacy of underfunding services.
Despite the successful work that human services workers and organizations have done and continue to do in part through the support of our local governments, the sector is now at a breaking point. The increased burden of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-rising cost of living in our region, have made systemic disinvestment and low wages even less tolerable for human service workers. The result has been people leaving the sector in unprecedented numbers and staff shortages which are preventing our sector from effectively supporting our communities. This situation is deeply unfair both to workers and it is unfair to the communities who depend on the services that human service organizations provide.
“Wage inequity is perpetuating a long-term staffing crisis that has lasting impacts on our children’s future.” – Janice Deguchi, Neighborhood House
“We have more than one staff member who work full time for us and still qualify to live in one of our housing facilities.” – Teena Ellison, Compass Housing Alliance
“It is a matter of stewardship to adjust our funding practices so that they set the conditions for nonprofit agencies to appropriately pay workforces that can afford to live in the communities they serve, sustain careers that allow them to attain mastery in difficult and essential community services, and meet our commitments to creating a welcoming community where every person can thrive.” – Dow Constantine, King County Executive
The low wages revealed in the King County wage survey are an issue of equity and values. The people served by human service organizations as well as the workers receiving these low wages are disproportionately people of color and women. Human services work, like other jobs across our economy that were historically labeled as “women’s work”, are devalued to this day.
The King County Alliance for Human Services is part of the Raising Wages for Changing Lives campaign, coordinated by the Seattle Human Services Coalition, to understand what equitable compensation should be for positions requiring the skills, difficulty, and responsibility of human services work. We applaud King County for taking the bold step to bring to light the extent to which human service workers are underpaid through commissioning this survey. Now, it is time for action. Organizations must continue to search for ways to pay those workers commensurate with the value of their work. Funders from across our region (private and public) must equitably and adequately invest in the people and systems that build well-being and strengthen communities across King County, investing the full cost of providing services.
Neighborhood House is committed to holding ourselves and our funders accountable to take bold action on this issue by making equitable, just investments in human service workers and the communities they serve. Neighborhood House is a member of the King County Alliance for Human Services and Janice serves as the co-chair of the Seattle Human Services Coalition’s Raising Wages for Changing Lives campaign with Michelle McDaniel, CEO of Crisis Clinic.