Policy Research Brief: Wage Compression Among Direct Support Professionals


This brief contains findings from a recent study exploring direct support professionals (DSPs) providing support to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of finding and keeping quality DSPs in a field that has experienced high turnover for decades. This problem is exacerbated by low starting wages, averaging only $11.56 an hour in 2019, and wage compression, where there is little difference in pay between new and more experienced staff. These have been major contributing factors to the workforce crisis, affecting both DSPs and frontline supervisors (FLSs). 

While the current average hourly raise per year among all hourly workers in the U.S. is between 3–5%, the Direct Support Workforce and COVID-19 National Report shows that it is nowhere near that for the direct support workforce. Wage and tenure data from three waves of the study reveals a significant gap between what DSPs and FLSs earned and what they would have earned if they saw a 4% increase in wages common in other industries. 

Providers of services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are constrained by low, non-negotiable reimbursement rates set by state Medicaid agencies. In many states, Medicaid rates have been stagnant or have decreased in the past decade. As a result, providers do not have enough funding to recruit new staff or raise wages to keep experienced staff. Both low starting wages and wage compression must be addressed for the DSP workforce crisis to be solved.

Suggested Citation

Bershadsky, J. (Ed.). (2021, December). Wage compression among direct support professionals. In Policy Research Brief (No. 5; Vol. 28).


December 2021 
Volume 28, Number 5
Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota


  • Direct support workforce
    • Retention and recruitment