A living wage for all is long overdue

Patrick Paul

We all know that raising the minimum wage — which means paying a living wage — is a focal point of national dialogue right now. To this, I respond by exclaiming: at long last! Given the fact that our federal pay rate has remained flat since 2009, this call to action is more than refreshing to hear. The question is: how long will it take for everyone to get on board with the idea?

At Anderson Center for Autism, we recently announced that we’re on board right NOW. We aren’t waiting for others to take action; we’ve already done so.

As part of our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at Anderson, and with the support of Anderson Foundation for Autism (which raises funds in an ongoing way to enrich our work at Anderson), our team members now make a minimum of $15 per hour. This went into effect on May 7th, 2021.

Why are we sharing this news? Because we want to inspire other nonprofits, businesses, and organizations to do exactly the same.

In the human services field, there’s no question that the quantifiable benefits of paying a living wage can help agencies like ours from a fiscal standpoint. We know that pay increases strengthen our ability to attract and retain great employees. We know that this, in turn, helps reduce the costs of training and hiring in a field marked by historically high turnover rates. We know that from a strictly financial perspective, it’s a win for nonprofit organizations and businesses alike.

More importantly, however, than the quantifiable difference this can make is the qualitative impact this will have. Better pay means a better life.

For far too long, staff like direct support professionals throughout our entire industry have had to work multiple jobs just to put food on the table for their families. They’ve had to forgo well-deserved dreams of vacations or higher education. They’ve had to live in a state of constant anxiety and work long hours to make up for low wages. These situations are not unlike those of other essential workers in various industries. It’s time for change.

While we realize that the new minimum hourly pay rate of $15 doesn’t resolve all financial stress, it does move the needle considerably for staff who bring tremendous energy, heart, talent, and skill to their jobs every day. It helps them afford their bills. It helps them save for their future. It helps eliminate the need to work more than one job to purchase essentials for their families. It sends them the message that we care about their well-being.

And ultimately, it helps them build better lives for themselves, just as they do for the people they serve every day at Anderson Center for Autism.

Please give considerable thought to providing a living wage to your employees this year. Together, we can help lift people out of poverty, address inequities, and build a stronger, healthier workforce and community.

Patrick Paul is the CEO/Executive Director of Anderson Center for Autism, located in Staatsburg, whose organizational mission is to “optimize the quality of life for people with autism.” Visit andersoncenterforautism.org.

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