Op-ed: Social service workers in New York demand a living wage

Low pay affects service

Social service workers are among the lowest-paid workers in the state, even though most are highly educated (two-thirds have a college education; nearly half have a bachelor’s degree or higher). They typically earn about 71% of what government employees earn and 82% of what private sector workers receive for the same position.

Low salaries also have a devastating impact on the quality of services the government can provide. It is difficult to recruit skilled workers and organizations have high staff turnover rates. Building a foundation of trust with customers is necessary to make an impact in communities, and progress is halted every time someone leaves.

For the past two years, we’ve been labeled essential, but our starvation wages mean we’re not liked by the government, and neither are the people we serve. When I came to work at the height of the pandemic, I did not receive any additional hazard pay. I was putting my life on the line and even lost a colleague to the virus.

I join the Human Services Council #JustPay campaigning in New York and demanding a living wage of at least $21 an hour; an automatic cost-of-living adjustment on all personal services contracts; and a plan to bring the salaries and benefits of contracted social service workers in line with the salaries of government employees in the same field.

Social service workers will be even more essential during the post-Covid recovery as we provide job training, housing support, early childhood education and more. By securing a living wage for the sector, policymakers can invest in New York’s recovery and bring better services and needed income to communities like mine.

Brittney Pruit is a cleaner at a supportive housing site in Manhattan.

Michael A. Bynum