Policy Research Brief: The Direct Support Workforce and COVID-19: Low Wages and Racial Disparities


A brief reporting findings from a recent study exploring direct support professionals (DSPs) providing support during the COVID-19 pandemic confirmed the critical shortage of DSPs supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, reflected in high turnover and vacancy rates, and low wages they earn. Fear of becoming infected or spreading the virus to others and added responsibilities for childcare are among factors that have amplified staffing challenges and added stress to DSPs and the people they support.

The study also revealed significant differences in hour wage between participants of different race groups. Participants identifying as Black/African American made, on average, $13.57, which was $0.41 less per hour than those identifying as white ($13.98) and $0.62 less than those identifying as other ($14.19). There were also significant differences between race groups and the number of additional hours worked weekly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants who identified as Black/African American (9%) and other (8%) had higher percentages of working an additional 31-40 hours weekly due to COVID-19 compared to white participants (5%). And, participants who identified as Black/African American (17%) worked more than 40 hours a week due to COVID-19 compared to white (9%) and other (10%) participants. 

The wage differences between Black/African American participants and white/other participants and the reality that they were also more likely to be the primary wage earner in their household and had lower household incomes likely contributes to their need to work more hours. Additional exploration of these disparities must be explored, and actions identified to remediate them.

Suggested Citation

Bershadsky, J. (2021, June). The direct support workforce and COVID-19: Low wages and racial disparities. Retrieved from https://publications.ici.umn.edu/community-living/prb/28-1/main


June 2021 
Volume 28, Number 1
Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota


  • Direct support workforce
    • Human resources and management
    • Retention and recruitment
  • Health and safety
    • Emergency/disaster preparedness