Campaign Pushes New York City to Hike Social Service Workers’ Pay to $15 an Hour

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Frontline social service workers are often underpaid and don’t have opportunities for advancement.

Now two New York City agencies are pushing the city to pay a minimum of $15 an hour to social service employees working under contracts with the city.

They’ve launched a campaign known as the Career Ladder Project, said Emily Miles, senior policy analyst at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, which is partnering with the Fiscal Policy Institute.

The goal is to get New York to add funding to its contracts to cover the wage increase, Miles said. A webinar scheduled for Wednesday explains the project.

The city has about $5 billion per year in contracts with nonprofits to provide social services, and these nonprofits hire about 116,000 employees. They work in early childhood education, after-school programs, adult literacy programs, child welfare programs and senior service, Miles said.  They also work in services for runaway and homeless youth, she said.

About 52 percent of employees earn less than $14 an hour, and 40 percent make less than $12 an hour, Miles said.

The majority of these workers are women of color and they tend to live in high-poverty neighborhoods, she said.

“We hear stories of them standing in line at a food pantry with their clients,” Miles said.

The Career Ladder Project also wants the city to set up employee certifications and professional development so employees can progress in their careers.

The campaign has been under development for about a year, Miles said. The goal is to expand it to New York state in the fall.

“We know statewide the [wages] are very similar,” she said.

The goal of the campaign is not only to provide a living wage to nonprofit employees. It’s also intended to stabilize the nonprofit sector.

“Raising wages helps stabilize a sector that was affected by the Great Recession,” Miles said.

Low wages have a profound impact, she said. They result in high turnover, which raises costs for nonprofits and can lessen the quality of their services.

The webinar is hosted by the Partnership for Afterschool Education.