More Essential Than Ever: Rebuilding the Illinois Health and Human Services Workforce in the Wake of COVID-19

Illinois Partners for Human Service newest report, More Essential Than Ever: Rebuilding the Illinois Health and Human Services Workforce in the Wake of COVID-19 identifies what factors are most affecting the health and human services workforce in the wake of the pandemic. To learn more about the report, register here for our virtual launch event and read the report’s opening letter from our Executive Director below.

Dear Reader,

Our relationship to work is transforming. The priorities of employees are fundamentally changing as people make difficult choices, driven by their concern for safety, their adaptation to new service models, obligations to care for their children or aging parents, and a desire to have a healthy work-life balance. These shifts, brought to the forefront during the last 18 months, will reverberate for years to come.

What does this transformation mean for the health and human services workforce, which has shouldered the burden of care throughout this pandemic? While the sector is certainly experiencing a crisis, I am reluctant to call it a “workforce crisis.” To do so suggests that the workforce is the problem, when in fact our problem is much deeper. Health and human services in Illinois have been experiencing systemic disinvestment for more than twenty years, and our workforce is bearing the brunt of the sector’s shaky foundation.

With these issues in mind, this research highlights sector-wide workforce trends in hiring, vacancies, and turnover, and identifies associated effects caused by COVID-19 on the health and human services workforce. Three key themes emerged:

1. The health and human services workforce is majority female. Black and Latina/x/o people are disproportionately represented among lower-wage, frontline staff. Therefore, investing in the health and human services workforce is inherently a gender and racial equity issue.

2. Community-based organizations are experiencing record levels of turnover and having unprecedented difficulty filling vacancies.

3. Unlike other sectors, health and human service employers cannot raise the price of their goods or services to increase employee wages. Therefore, the state must commit to bold and actionable fiscal and policy measures to ensure the sustainability of the health and human services workforce.

Complex problems require complex solutions. While there are short- and long-term recommendations at the end of this report, we know there are no quick fixes. Twenty years of disinvestment and a global pandemic led us to this moment of reckoning. It will take a fundamental paradigm shift to emerge successfully and prove we value our communities by fully investing in their well-being. There is no better time to recommit to this work than now.

In Solidarity,

Lauren Wright

Executive Director, Illinois Partners for Human Service

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