August 8, 2023
Joint Office publishes wage study showing provider workforce challenges
The Joint Office is releasing a wage study today that analyzes wages, employee satisfaction, and workforce stability at 20 community-based service providers contracted with the Joint Office of Homeless Services. Read the study here.
The study reveals that many of the employees at the organizations have trouble making ends meet with their current wages, with only 31% saying they felt their compensation allows them to take care of their basic needs. Half of employees surveyed said they were likely to look for a new job within the next year.
“These findings reinforce what homeless services providers have been saying for years: that they aren’t adequately compensated for the challenging work they do on the frontlines of our community,” said Daniel Field, director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services. “Low wages result in high turnover rates, slowing our progress in delivering housing and homeless services to our most vulnerable community members.”
“That’s why the Joint Office is increasing the resources we dedicate to our contracted staff. Strengthening the workforce is key to accomplishing what our community demands of us: moving people off the streets and into housing,” Field said.
Prior to the release of the study, the Joint Office had already begun to increase its investments in its contracted workforce. Starting in fiscal year 2023, the Joint Office provided a 7% cost-of-living adjustment for most contractors, which increased to 8% in fiscal year 2024. The Joint Office also provided additional targeted funding for compensation and benefits for front line staff in fiscal year 2023. And, the Joint Office’s corrective action plan with Metro to spend down carryover Supportive Housing Services funds includes a $10 million investment in capacity-building grants for new and expanding providers, though this investment will require approval from the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.
The study fulfills one of the goals of Multnomah County’s 10-year Local Implementation Plan of the Supportive Housing Services measure, which included the analysis as an initial step in increasing system-wide provider capacity. Provider capacity was identified in the Local Implementation Plan as a key factor in the success of the Supportive Housing Services measure, since the creation and launch of new programs and the expansion of existing programming will be dependent on that workforce.
The median salary was about $46,000
30% of employees had worked less than one year at their organization
The study revealed that compensation is low, especially for entry-level staff. Study-wide, the median annual salary was about $46,000, with entry-level staff earning a median salary of $42,795. Fewer than one-third (31%) of employees felt their compensation allows them to take care of their basic needs.
The study also revealed high turnover rates at JOHS-contracted agencies. Median years of experience at the organizations was 2.4 years, and 30% of employees had less than one year of experience at their organization. And more than half of employees surveyed said they were “somewhat or very likely” to look for a new job during the next year.
The study also showed that employee turnover is tied to pay. When asked about the top reasons they would leave their current organization or stay at their current organization, 78% of employees said they would leave their current job for better pay somewhere else, while 86% of employees said they would stay at their current organization for better pay.
However, pay wasn’t the only factor in employee retention. In general, employees who were more satisfied with supports at work (such as professional development opportunities and support for work-life balance) and their workplace’s culture were less likely to report burnout and intentions to plan to leave their workplace during the next year. Similarly, employees who were satisfied with their workplaces’ efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion were less likely to report burnout and intentions to look for a new job.
The study also analyzed employee responses to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at provider agencies. In general, employees reported that improved communication and responsiveness to feedback would increase their satisfaction with their employers’ efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. Employees identified transparency in salary determination (53%), communication about things that affect staff (50%) and improved processes for collecting and responding to staff feedback (47%) as the top three actions that their agencies could take to advance DEI efforts.
The study includes policy recommendations, but as only one funder of organizations in the region’s homeless services sector – and often not an organization’s sole funder – the Joint Office alone won’t be able to change the landscape of the region’s homeless services workforce.
In general, the study supports a tailored approach to improving workforce stability and equity that’s responsive to each agency’s needs, rather than one-size-fits-all directives regarding staffing and compensation that lack specific relevance to each workplace.
The policy recommendations in the study include outreach to individual providers on both an individual and systemic level to address some of the challenges identified in the study, and increasing technical assistance support, providing contracting incentives, addressing burnout, increasing wage transparency, and helping create a system-wide strategy for addressing workforce issues.
Along with conducting outreach to individual providers, the Joint Office will share the results of the study with other Portland-area local administrative units supporting homelessness services (such as the cities of Portland and Gresham, the Washington County and Clackamas County Continuums of Care, Metro, the SHS Tri-County Planning Body, and nonprofit grant-makers) as a first step in a coordinated approach to improving workforce stability and equity across the regional homelessness services sector.
The study, conducted by the Joint Office with the support of Homebase (a nonprofit technical assistance provider dedicated to building communities’ capacity to address homelessness) and North Third (a research and analysis firm), analyzed compensation and benefits data provided by 20 participating organizations. The study also included employee and leadership surveys, and focus groups with employees and leadership.
Homebase reached out to 40 agencies among the Joint Office’s contracted providers, selected because they provide primarily homelessness services. Of those, 26 agreed to participate and 20 submitted data. The data was collected in May through August 2022 and included employee classification, compensation and benefits data that was in effect for fiscal year 2022 (July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022).
To encourage organizations’ participation in the study, the Joint Office agreed that it would not have access to the raw data from the study. Homebase and North Third conducted all analyses for the system-wide report and agency-specific reports that compare an individual agency’s data to a comparison group of other agencies.