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Good Work Its Own Reward?

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Section: Canadian News Geography: Atlantic Nova Scotia

December 27, 2010

Good Work Its Own Reward?

Report finds high turnover, low pay, and educated workforce in non-profit sector

by Ben Sichel

Sixty per cent of non-profit workers – of whom eighty-seven per cent are women – earn less than $40,000 a year. Photo: Ben Sichel

HALIFAX—Workers in Nova Scotia’s non-profit sector are poorly paid, highly educated, and frequently leaving their jobs, according to a new study conducted for the Federation of Community Organizations and Phoenix Youth Programs.

Sixty per cent of non-profit workers – of whom eighty-seven per cent are women – earn less than $40,000 a year, and ninety-four per cent earn less than $60,000 “at all levels,” according to Miia Suokonautio, Director of Programming at Phoenix Youth Programs and Co-chair of the study.

As well, three quarters of non-profit employees in the province hold at least one university degree, compared to forty-five per cent nationally.

“Where there may be a public perception that…good will is enough” to work in the non-profit sector, says Suokonautio, “the complexity, and the level of service delivery and community involvement required from non-profits actually has more and more people having university degrees.”

While many do not think of the United Way, home care services for seniors, the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs and Environmental NGOs as an employment sector, non-profits actually employ more Nova Scotians than traditional sectors like manufacturing or construction, says the report.

As well, the non-profit sector is key to community health and vitality, says Suokonautio.

“When you think of the community without the little league team, or without the home support services for seniors, or without the programs for immigrants and newcomers to help them settle, without services for homeless adults, you start to see a significantly impoverished Nova Scotia,” she says.

“And in rural Nova Scotia, what we heard from our research is that in some communities it’s really the lifeblood.”

Low pay and instability of funding were directly related to another common problem in the non-profit sector: high employee turnover rates. Sixty per cent of current non-profit employees have been in their positions less than two years, according to the report.

This phenomenon has a highly unsettling effect on those receiving services, says Suokonautio.

“If every two years you had to change your family doctor…the impact is huge,” she says.

Suokonautio adds that Nova Scotians should be aware of the excellent value they get from investing in the non-profit sector. “We do things that the market would never do because there’s no financial incentive, and we do things cheaper than if the government were to do it,” she says.

“We know that the provincial government is facing cuts,” she says. However, “cuts to some places will actually mean more costs, so it doesn’t necessarily make sense to cut up front…if you cut some of the essential services…the cost for justice, the cost for health care, are likely to go up.”

Ben Sichel is a member of the Halifax Media Co-op, where this article was originally published

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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