CEO Corner

Disability Workforce

Whenever I talk about staffing issues and the workforce crisis in the disability profession, I mention both the booming economy in the Twin Cities and the problem of demographics. Demographics, or population decline, is affecting the economy of the Twin Cities in profound ways. Many policy makers in the legislature and the Governor’s office, as well as those in the media, are unaware in any serious way of the looming consequences of this problem-though they have been warned for years that it was coming. All Minnesota professions and industries are beginning to suffer the effects of our becoming an older state, even usually popular ones such as construction.

I had occasion last week to revisit the data during a presentation by Claire Wilson, Assistant Commissioner of the Community Supports Unit at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, at an ARRM Leadership Conference. As Minnesotans age and develop more disabilities, they will increase the need for more direct care workers or DSPs. DHS estimates we have 135,000 DSPs now and will need another 60,000 over the next 15 years.

But where will these new DSPs come from? Baby boomer retirements are depleting the labor force. In the 1980s and 90s, Minnesota’s labor force averaged growth between 32,000-38,000 workers a year. Between 2010 and 2020 however, it will average 8000 per year. Between 2020 and 2030, it will average only 4000 per year!

Why? Put bluntly we have not been producing enough kids. In the 1950s and 60s, during the prime baby boomer years, the percentage of the population under 18 ranged from the low to high 30s (32%-38%). Beginning in 1980, this percentage steadily declined through the 20s to a low of 24% in 2010. This percentage is expected to decline to 22% by 2030. On the other hand, those baby boomers are expected to increase the share of the population 65+ from 9% in 1950 to 21% in 2030. By 2040, it is expected that Minnesota will have more citizens over 65 than under 18-which has never happened before. All the while, those in prime working years, ages 18-64, will decline as a percentage from the low 60s to the high 50s. The simple truth is that we will not have enough workers in Minnesota to get the work done, no matter the industry.

We may have already reached that point in the disability industry. ARRM did a survey last year of its membership to measure a moment in time-how many open positions did each have at that moment. The number was staggering-8705 of just those ARRM members. Add in the nursing home industry and home health care and non-ARRM disability companies, and that total could have easily reached 20,000.

Assistant Commissioner Wilson talked of matching policies to Minnesota’s remaining an older state for the foreseeable future, since that is unlikely to change absent a huge influx of immigrants. There is little evidence that the department is doing so. It lacks big data on the problem and he’s presented little to the legislature. It is advocating the transformation of the disability industry into one that will require huge increases in the number of DSPs we need, above and beyond what we need to operate the system we have now.

What is Homeward Bound’s take on this? We cannot depend on state policy makers or agencies to lead us out of this fix. Both the national and state governments are too slow and ponderous, too 20th century really, to help much. They have had years to solve this looming disaster and have done little beyond some data collection and lots of talk.

Here is the blunt truth: we must instead depend on ourselves. Homeward Bound performs its human resources mission better than most, but it intends to get better and better at hiring, training and retaining the core group of engaged staff it needs to deliver services to the individuals it serves. The looming workforce crisis, that will do so much to change our state, may impact the capacity of other providers to deliver quality services, but not Homeward Bound.

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