Policy Research Brief: The Direct Support Workforce and COVID-19: Work Life and Wage Augmentation


A brief with findings from a recent study exploring experiences of direct support professionals (DSPs) providing support during the COVID-19 pandemic confirmed the critical shortage of DSPs supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This staff shortage is reflected in DSPs' rapid turnover, high vacancy rates, and low wages. DSPs' uncertainty about how to support their families financially and feeling dispensable have undermined their job satisfaction since the start of the pandemic. 

The study also revealed a relationship between quality of work life and pay increases. Since the start of the pandemic, 54% of participants felt their quality of work life had gotten either worse or much worse, 38% felt their quality of work life was the same, and 8% felt their quality of work life was better or much better. However, 59% of participants who did not receive a wage increase felt their quality of work life had gotten worse or much worse, compared to 50% of those who did receive a wage increase. Approximately 16% of respondents felt the most important thing their employer did for them during the pandemic was increase their pay.  However, 9% reported their employer did nothing to support them during the pandemic. 

When DSPs received pay increases in response to the pandemic, their quality of work life increased. Policies should permanently increase DSPs’ pay, officially recognize the DSP workforce as essential by establishing a Standard Occupational Classification, and professionalize the DSP workforce through education and training. 

Suggested Citation

Oteman, Q. (2021, July). The direct support workforce and COVID-19: Work life and wage augmentation. Retrieved from https://publications.ici.umn.edu/community-living/prb/28-2/main


July 2021 
Volume 28, Number 2
Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota