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An easy way for Mayor de Blasio to keep his promise

JEREMY CHRISTOPHER KOHOMBAN and MICHELLE YANCHE | 3/9/2017, midnight
As not-for-profit human service providers and members of a sector that is a major economic engine employing more than 200,000 ...
Mayor Bill de Blasio PIX 11 News/Facebook

As not-for-profit human service providers and members of a sector that is a major economic engine employing more than 200,000 New Yorkers, we were elated to hear Mayor de Blasio focus his Feb. 13 State of the City Address on job creation and the city’s workforce. 

“We have to drive up incomes,” the Mayor said. “And that means actually helping people get the kind of jobs that allow you to afford to live in New York City. Good-paying jobs.” This is “your city,” he added and described that a good-paying job should pay at least $50,000 a year. We couldn’t agree more.

We applaud de Blasio for recognizing and seeking to address low wages in one of the most expensive cities in the nation. But, unless something dramatically changes in the way that New York City contracts with not-for-profit human service providers, the city of the mayor’s vision does not include us or our workforce.

In a news conference after his address, de Blasio explained that his administration will be working in the coming months to identify specific actions that the city will take to realize his ambitious job-creation goal. We want to point to a direct and measurable way for the mayor to keep this promise while also addressing the persistent under-investment in the not-for-profit sector: raise salaries for our hard-working and well-educated workforce to the minimum $50,000.

The Children’s Village and Good Shepherd Services are among the larger human service not-for-profit providers in New York City. Yet, the overwhelming majority of employees at our two organizations make less than $50,000, with a full half making less than $40,000. At best, the larger and stronger of our fellow providers share similar statistics; other, particularly smaller, organizations probably fare much worse.

The mayor’s preliminary budget includes only a 2 percent cost-of-living increase, with no retroactive adjustment—and it includes only those of our employees who are paid under city contracts. The impact would be minimum. For example, for a child abuse prevention case worker at Good Shepherd Services’ Family Service Center in the Bronx making $39,975, this increase would add approximately $800 to her annual paycheck.

According to the Human Services Council, 80 percent of the not-for-profit human services workforce is female and more than 80 percent are people of color. Both are historically disadvantaged populations that continue to be underappreciated, facing discrimination in hiring and pay in most other sectors. But a decade of no-growth City contracts has severely limited the human services sector’s ability to provide a level of compensation to our workforce sufficient to live and support a family in a high-rent market such as New York City. (In fact, many of our workers are forced to hold two or more jobs to make ends meet.) It has also forced our donors to try to fill the gap left by the city’s persistent underfunding rather than invest in the kind of innovative life-changing programming that philanthropy has traditionally made possible. 

This underfunding is why Children’s Village and Good Shepherd Services have joined with more than 200 other New York City human service organizations to implore the mayor to reverse a decade of financial neglect. In doing so, he also makes instant progress on his promise to create these $50,000-a-year jobs. We believe that such an investment would instantly generate at least 25,000 such jobs across NYC’s not-for-profit sector. That’s 25 percent of the mayor’s promise kept!

Jeremy Christopher Kohomban, Ph.D. is president and chief executive officer of Children’s Village and Michelle Yanche is associate executive director at Good Shephard Services