Wages haven’t yet followed growing recognition of the value of community health workers

Although there is now national consensus on community health worker (CHW) core roles and skills, and health care reform has led to the recognition of community health workers’ role in improving health outcomes and reducing costs, most CHWs in the Commonwealth are not paid living wages. This key finding of a report commissioned by the Massachusetts Association of Community Health Workers (MACHW) informs a recommended structure for salary ranges of CHWs (download the brief).

In 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, CHWs in Massachusetts earned an average hourly wage of $20.86. The majority of the CHW workforce is made up of women of color who likely support children, leaving a significant gap between a living and actual wage. In Massachusetts, the living hourly wage for a single adult with 2 children is $32.98*, or approximately $68,600 in annual earnings for a full time, year-round worker. But in 2016, the average hourly wage of CHWs was $20.86.

Recognizing experience levels and varied cost of living varies across the state, MACHW recommends that employers, including hospitals, local governments, and organizations such as community health centers, adopt the following minimum salary ranges for CHWs:

Experience Salary
Entry  0 – 2 years $38,000- $42,000
Mid-Career 2- 5 years $42,000- $46,000
Senior 5+ years $46,000+

Community health workers play a critical outreach role for health organizations and providers, helping individuals and communities practice and maintain healthy behaviors. They serve as liaisons to the community, connect patients to services and providers, identify community health needs, and support the prevention and management of chronic disease. As models of care evolve toward patient-centered care and accountable care organizations, CHWs will play a growing role in mediating cultural gaps and delivering culturally appropriate care and education based in their shared, lived experience with the populations they serve.  The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts that demand for CHWs will outpace the total increase in all occupations (a 16% increase versus 7% increase).

HRiA is the fiscal sponsor of MACHW, which works to promote best practices for community health workers, develop the profession, and effectively integrate CHWs into the evolving health care system.

*Calculation made using the MIT Living Wage Calculator for Massachusetts