During the past quarter century, the organization of service delivery has changed notably along two dimensions: a shift from (a) institutional to community services and (b) states being the primary providers of services to states being primarily buyers of services from non-state (usually private) organizations. The shift from institutional to community living has substantially affected the role of the direct support professionals (DSPs), who within the community work with far less direct supervision, less on-site professional support, and substantially greater individual responsibility than do DSPs in institutional settings. With the shift from state to non-state employees as the primary service providers, pay and other compensation for DSPs has also been affected. National studies have documented lower compensation (wages and benefits) for DSPs in non-state agencies when compared with those employed by the state (Braddock & Mitchell, 1992; Lakin & Bruininks, 1981). The consistency of the association between lower compensation and higher staff turnover and the relative differences in compensation between state and non-state DSPs has been assumed to be a major factor in the disparities in turnover rates for DSPs, which is consistently found to average between 55% to 75% per year in non-state organizations, but only about 20% to 25% per year in state agencies (Larson, Lakin, & Hewitt, 2002).
In 2002, we contacted state intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) program agencies and state trade associations for non-state community services providers to obtain all information collected within the states between 1998 and 2002 on average and average beginning wages for non-state, community DSPs. Data on state-employee DSP wages were obtained from the June 2000 survey of all state institutions in the United States. Responses were obtained from 49 of the 51 surveyed state agencies, 25 of 32 surveyed state residential service provider associations, and 169 of 187 individual large state facilities. Nationally, 37 state agencies were able to provide documentation on an average beginning or average wage of DSPs working in non-state community service as of 1998 or later. Fifteen state residential service provider trade associations supplied statistics on either average beginning or average direct-support staff wages in non-state community services. Altogether, in 42 states either the state developmental disabilities services program agency or the state residential service trade association reported average beginning and/or average wage of DSPs in non-state, community agencies. In 7 of these states, a median wage statistic was used instead of an “average” wage statistic. In 13 states IDD program agencies provided the average beginning and/or average wage of DSPs of state-operated community programs. In addition, for comparative purposes a statistic on average pay for all workers was generated from the average wages of workers covered by unemployment insurance in each state in 2000 as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average contemporary DSP wages were also compared with estimates of DSP average wages in 1989 (data from Braddock & Mitchell, 1992).
Changes in Average Wages, 1989–2000
Figure 1 shows the changes in average beginning and average wages for all DSPs in 1989 and 2000 (± 2 years). It shows similar proportional growth between state and non-state DSP wages. Between 1989 and 2000, state employees' beginning and overall average wages increased by 51.3% and 42.8%, respectively. Non-state DSP average beginning and overall average wages increased by 43.2% and 44.9%, respectively. Although the proportional increases were similar, because of their higher 1989 base wages, state DSPs received average increases of $1.01 more in average beginning wages and $.89 more in average overall wages than did the non-state DSPs.
Table 1 summarizes wage statistics gathered from each of the states. These statistics include (a) average beginning and overall average wages for DSPs in state-operated services, broken down by institutions with 16 or more residents and state-operated community services; (b) average beginning wages and average for all DSPs in non-state community services (Year refers to the effective date of the reported non-state averages); (c) state average hourly wages as reported by the Department of Labor for 2000; (d) non-state average beginning and average for all DSPs as a proportion of the averages for DSPs in state-operated services; and (e) the average wages for all state and non-state DSPs as a proportion of the average hourly wage for all employees in the state in 2000.
Average Beginning and Overall Wages
Nationally, the average of state averages for beginning DSP wages in state-operated services was $9.49 per hour. The average beginning wage in state-operated community services (12 states) was $9.36. The average beginning wage for DSPs in state institutions was $9.51. Nationally, the average reported wage for all DSPs working in state-operated services was $11.67 per hour. The average for DSPs in state-operated community services (8 states reporting) was $11.76 per hour. A wide range was noted among the states.
Nationally, the average beginning salary for DSPs working in non-state agencies was $7.33 per hour and the average reported wage for all DSPs working for non-state residential service agencies was $8.68 per hour. The range across states was notable, but less notable than within state-operated services.
Comparison of State and Non-State Wages
On average, non-state community DSPs had beginning hourly wages that were only 77.2% of those of state employees. The average discrepancy between average wages of all DSPs was even greater, with non-state DSPs earning on average less than three quarters (74.4%) of the hourly wage paid to state DSPs. The greatest proportional differences between average wages for state and non-state DSPs in the 31 states in which comparisons could be made was in California (non-state wages were 53.9% of state).
Average DSP Wages as Proportion of State Hourly Average
Comparisons between state and non-state DSP average hourly wages and overall average wages showed both state and non-state DSPs to fall far below the state averages. State DSPs averaged only 74.4% of the average wages in their respective states, whereas non-state DSPs averaged barely half (55.4%) of the average state wage.