In a preliminary report released today (pdf), the Seattle Human Services Coalition (SHSC) declared that it "fully supports" raising Seattle's minimum wage to $15 an hour, while urging that it be implemented in "a thoughtful manner to prevent unintended consequences," such as denying low-income people access to critical services.

The Seattle Human Services Coalition recognizes the importance of a livable minimum wage in addressing poverty in our community. SHSC fully supports raising the minimum wage for all human services workers (and others) to $15/hr.

We are also acutely aware that this call for raising the minimum wage must be done in such a way that does not result in a decrease in urgently needed services; any solution must take into account the impact on the vulnerable people we serve.

SHSC's concerns are very real. As the report points out, nonprofits generally don't have the option of raising prices or cutting profits in response to higher labor costs. Without additional resources (from donations and government grants and contracts), many human service organizations would be forced to cut back services. The report contains a laundry list of potential cuts that we would surely want to avoid, from reducing the availability of Head Start to decreasing housing and rental assistance to the homeless to closing after school programs and much more.

The sad truth is that persistent underfunding has made social work, childcare, and other human services some of our nation's lowest paid professions. "Parking lot attendants get paid more than childcare workers," SHSC co-chair Steve Daschle told me. "It is so telling of our society that we value our cars more than our children." With so many human service workers now earning below $15 an hour, a minimum wage hike would cost SHSC members millions of dollars a year.

The challenge in the minimum wage debate, says Daschle, "is to get policy makers to look at the bigger picture, and see how these decisions ripple across the broader community." More funding might be part of the solution, as well as a phase in that gives both human service organizations and their government and philanthropic funders the time to adjust. But as much as he warns against ignoring the potential impact on vulnerable communities, he also cautions against misusing this report: "It should not be used as a reason for not pursuing a minimum wage," insists Daschle.

"Much of our work is all about trying to bring a livable wage to all people," says Daschle. Including the employees of SHSC members.