Low wages and pandemic gut staffing support for those with disabilities


Ernestine “Erma” Bryant likes her job, but the pay is a problem.


She works in a caregiver role as a direct support professional in Tifton, Ga., helping people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities with basic functions such as dressing, bathing and eating.


Bryant said it’s fulfilling work. “You can help people be successful — people who are confined to the bed,” she said. “It gives me joy knowing that I can help that person get out of the house.”


But she said she’s being paid less than $10 an hour and is trying to get a second job.

In a way, Bryant is an anomaly, having worked as a support professional in the same job for five years in a field with high turnover. Even before the pandemic, the nation had a shortage of direct support professionals working in private homes, group facilities, day programs and other community settings.


Fears of contracting COVID-19 at work have made the caregiver staffing problem worse. Persistent low pay amid a tight U.S. labor market makes it that much harder to attract workers.

Worker shortages across the health care spectrum — from nurses to