News Report: Human services industry leads in diversity, lags in pay

The Providers’ Council and University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute on Wednesday released a new report, The Face of the Human Services Sector, during a forum with state officials and industry experts.

According to the data, the human services industry is primarily made up of women, more ethnically and racially diverse, more likely to employ persons with disabilities and has more workers living at 150 percent of the federal poverty level than all other Massachusetts industries. The report findings were presented by UMass Donahue Institute Senior Research Manager and report author Christina Citino, who said there are now nearly 180,000 jobs in the sector, and projections suggest almost 150,000 workers. It is the sixth collaboration between the Council and the UMass Donahue Institute.

Having more jobs than workers is a trend seen in most industries across the state said Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta, who joined Citino, state Sen. Eric P. Lesser, North Suffolk Mental Health Association President and CEO Jackie K. Moore and AIDS Project Worcester Executive Director Michelle Smith to discuss the findings.

“This is the time to think about human services and think creatively and think quickly,” Acosta said. “We’re doing a lot of great things and doing a lot of things right, but right now we have to deal with retention … What incentives can we create to help (workers) stay; and if we know they’re moving on, how do we help them do that and create new partnerships?”

Sen. Lesser said the report will be helpful when advocating on behalf of human services at the State House. Among the findings in The Face of the Human Services Sector are some key differences that set the human services workforce apart from other industries in the Commonwealth, such as:

  • 80 percent are women — higher than health care (77 percent) and nearly double of all other industries combined (44 percent);
  • The sector is twice as likely to employ persons who identify as black/African American and 1.5 times as likely to employ Latinos;
  • More than 7 percent of workers have a disability, compared to 4.6 percent in all other Mass. industries; and
  • Median wages for all human services workers ($27,376) is more than $13,000 lower than media wages across all Massachusetts industries ($40,557).

“Choosing a caring profession should not come at the expense of financial stability,” said Citino, the report author, who has been researching the human services sector for more than 12 years. “Being steps away from needing services should be the cost of being a part of the caring force.”

“It’s no surprise and no secret that this is a community and an industry under strain, and under strain at a number of points,” said Lesser. “The pay is abhorrent and indefensible when you look at other industries; and it’s co-mingled with gender and race. There’s a structural challenge: The pay is very low and the education demands are very high. It’s unconscionable that people are expected to do this work without regard to the impact on their finances.”

Some of the other challenges provider executives are addressing include how to incorporate a better work-life balance and flexibility that employees want and how to diversify leadership, points made by Moore and Smith, respectively.

You can download the report here. If you have questions about the report, please email Bill Yelenak ( or call 617.428.3636 x122.

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