Cover: Living Wages in Los Angeles County's Homeless Response Sector

Living Wages in Los Angeles County's Homeless Response Sector

Published May 10, 2023

by Lisa Abraham, Sarah B. Hunter, Samantha Matthews, Alex Sizemore

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Research Questions

  1. What constitutes a living wage in Los Angeles County, and are homeless sector response workers paid a living wage?
  2. What are the costs of not paying a living wage to homeless response sector workers?
  3. What are the barriers to paying a living wage to workers in the sector?

Rising costs of living are a top concern across the country. This is particularly important for organizations that seek to support vulnerable populations. This report explores what constitutes a living wage in Los Angeles County and the barriers preventing workers in the homeless response sector from receiving such a wage. The authors examined what a living wage is in Los Angeles County using fair market rents for various unit sizes and several family configurations. They then collected data on wages listed in job postings within Los Angeles County for frontline and management occupations in the homeless response sector to assess earning potential. They find that workers at nonprofit organizations, particularly frontline staff, often do not earn a living wage, which contributes to the financial, emotional, and health burdens that these workers face. This is likely to affect employee productivity and retention as well as the quality and continuity of client care.

Key Findings

The status quo is unsustainable

  • Organizations are understaffed and lack resources.
  • Workers in the sector, particularly frontline staff, face difficult working conditions, which include navigating complex systems to assist their clients and striving to maintain their own safety in potentially dangerous situations. Workers are also at risk of experiencing secondary trauma.
  • These conditions, along with low pay, have led to burnout and high turnover, which is likely to negatively affect the quality and continuity of client care.

Managers have limited authority to set wages

  • Restrictions set by government and philanthropic contracts control the wage-setting process.
  • Reimbursement rates and wages embedded in these contracts have also not kept pace with cost-of-living increases.

Attention must focus on long-term solutions for increasing worker wages

  • Achieving long-term increases in worker pay will require political will.
  • Additionally, all parties in the sector could do more to reduce conflicts of interest regarding worker staffing and pay.

Recommendations

  • Funders should cover the full cost of service, including cost-of-living wage increases in contracts and grants, and could engage in an ongoing assessment of pay and equity in the sector.
  • Organizations could improve collaboration to support and advocate for workers.
  • All parties in the sector could work together to reduce conflicts of interest regarding worker staffing and pay and to build political will for long-term solutions.

This study was sponsored by Social Justice Partners Los Angeles conducted by RAND Education and Labor and the Social and Behavioral Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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