Opinion

Jobs Investment should start with the city's nonprofit sector

By Allison Sesso |  

February 23, 2017 |  

(Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

During his State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio made a bold pledge to create 100,000 quality private sector jobs as part of his effort to keep New York affordable. With few details being offered, many are left scratching their heads and wondering whether he has the means to execute this ambitious vision.

If he really wants to address income inequality, the mayor should look to the nonprofit human services sector, where he can have a direct and immediate impact. Nearly 90,000 individuals are currently working under city contracts to provide essential services, but due to city funding decisions, many of these jobs are not “good paying.”

These private sector salaries are often set by government contracts, and many fall below his stated $50,000 a year threshold. Given the demographic makeup of this workforce – 84 percent female and 75 percent people of color – it is a key proxy for equitable development. Properly compensating this workforce would increase the incomes of thousands of women and people of color.

The widening gap between costs and contract payment rates has stripped providers of their ability to offer appropriate and competitive wages and benefits. While the mayor has negotiated robust wage increases and retroactive compensation for labor groups, nonprofit workers have enjoyed very little investment in comparison.

These are the workers who coordinate foster care and operate shelters for people experiencing homelessness. We can all agree that these are vital services that address pressing issues for our city, but low wages and decreasing benefits mean that turnover for these jobs commonly surpasses 35 percent. It is increasingly difficult to fill positions, which means key jobs are left vacant for long periods of time adding to the workloads of existing staff. This jeopardizes the quality of the services our city is able to provide.

Furthermore, in choosing to focus on jobs and economic drivers, the mayor fails to factor in the role of this sector as an anchor in building the economy and sustaining communities. The nonprofit human services sector stands with the mayor in his agenda, but the sector is ill equipped to do its part. The sector is in crisis – 18 percent of human services providers are financially insolvent, and 40 percent are operating with margins so tight, there is no room for error.

Any comprehensive economic agenda must address the financial instability of the nonprofit human services sector. The city must make a meaningful investment in the nonprofits it contracts with to make up for years of underfunding in the face of rising costs and their failure to cover necessary expenses like infrastructure and administration. Without this investment, nonprofits are left with no choice but to turn back contracts or risk going out of business themselves, meaning fewer jobs for New Yorkers and less access to services that help people find and keep jobs.

The workers of the sector, and the people who come through our doors, need a robust and economically stable sector. We are calling on the mayor to include crucial investments in the sector by funding an across-the-board increase that will allow contracted providers to invest in infrastructure and repairs, offset increasing rent and health care costs, provide compensation to our workforce, and support critical administrative functions.

The failure to address this crisis will result in vital programs closing in communities and workers being laid off: a detriment to neighborhoods and New York’s economy. The mayor cannot deliver on his vision for New York City’s communities without the nonprofit human services sector. It is time for him to acknowledge and support our programs, our workers, and our communities.

Allison Sesso is the Executive Director of the Human Services Council of New York (HSC), an organization representing nonprofit human service organizations across New York.

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