It’s Too Bad We Need To Keep Talking About This

Spring is finally here in Massachusetts and with it comes all the usual trappings: the days are getting longer, the temperature is starting to rise, trees are blooming, and people are spending lots of time outdoors.  Spring also means that budget season is in full swing now as the House of Representatives and the Senate in Boston take turns building a new annual budget for the Commonwealth.  Unfortunately, that process brings with it another annual rite: the need to ask yet again, why professionals who are dedicated to helping others are not paid as well as they should be.  And that conversation is getting old.


The Human Services sector in Massachusetts is a very large one with almost 200,000 jobs and close to ten percent of the population in the state receiving some type of help.  In spite of the many lives being touched and supported, the people who do this work, and do it tirelessly, remain vastly underpaid because state contracts do not provide for the type of pay they deserve.  As a result, the industry continues to experience a severe workforce crisis that is now leaving people who need help behind.  At this time, approximately 7,000 people with disabilities and mental health needs are unable to attend day programs they attended before the pandemic because there are not enough staff to help them.  Fixing this crisis begins with finally paying professionals a truly competitive wage and this starts with the legislature.  People on Beacon Hill need to step up and recognize the incredible contributions and skills of these professionals and the positive impact their work has across this state.  The time to discuss the issue is over and the time to fix it is now.


Individuals who work in the human services sector already live a life of sacrifice.  They put in grueling hours, miss holidays with their families, miss birthday parties, risk physical harm, and face the constant emotional strain of the work they do.  For all of this sacrifice, the average annual pay for direct care staff is still well over ten thousand dollars below the state average.  How can this still be the case?  Every year we talk about the vital work being done by people in this field and the uncommon skills they have.  And yet, we are still left to justify why they should be paid a livable wage in Massachusetts, a state with a very high cost of living.  Without the amazing men and women in this challenged workforce, hundreds of thousands of people would be at even greater risk than they are now.  In short, human services professionals solve a great many problems for Massachusetts and they are absolutely entitled to significantly higher wages for the heavy burden they carry. 


The social safety net in Massachusetts is one that leaders in the state should be proud of and one they have invested in over many decades.  However, that system is approaching a breaking point because of a workforce crisis that existed long before the pandemic came along.  There is a tremendous array of programs and services available in the Commonwealth but the people who directly provide those services remain terribly underpaid.  Countless people have left the industry because they simply cannot afford to do the work they love.  It is time to fix this by funding contracts that pay professionals appropriately for their commitment and unique abilities.  Without them, there is no safety net at all.