Inflation and Interpreters — Agency Audience Version

If you serve the public by providing language interpreters, they (and you) are experiencing or about to experience an economic crisis. Let’s review what is happening and why, then move on to strategies.

Why Inflation is a Looming Problem for Language Agencies

Everyone is feeling pressure from inflation that is at a 40 year high, and interpreters are feeling the squeeze more than most. As their cost of living rises, they need increased compensation, but are seldom receiving it.

Wages rose sharply in most sectors last year as the economy rebounded from early pandemic waves. Then, a surge of economy-wide price inflation wiped out those gains, leaving workers with 2.7% less buying power than they had in 2019. Language interpreters, whose wages have been stagnant for years, face this without any increase in income to match the higher cost of goods, services, and housing.

This has resulted in many dropping out of the field, shifting jobs, or even going on strike. Beginning in late 2021, interpreters in court systems in Europe, Canada, and the United States began striking for higher wages. These strikes targeted court systems, including all courts in The Netherlands, Ontario, and Colorado. In California, a strike in Santa Clara County soon spread to the entire state. Because court interpreters are specialized and every litigant in these systems has a right to interpreting so that they can fully understand what is going on, courts ground to a halt.

To sum up, the combination of inflation and stagnant wages means higher service fees may be necessary, fewer interpreters may be available, and the end client may not be able to consistently offer services to those who depend on them.

How To Help Your Interpreters and Maintain Reliable Service

Every labor situation is unique, especially in a field with many agencies and independent contractors. But to keep interpreters working, we recommend you explore these options:

Be proactive and be the first to reach out—You know people are the true bedrock of any business, and that’s especially true in an industry where the stock in trade is expertise in helping others communicate.

Being proactive and getting ahead of the inflation problem is just smart business. If you ran a factory and needed a certain raw material to stay open, what would you do if it was trending toward shortage? You would reach out to providers and make sure that you had secured what you needed. The same applies to skilled labor, and if you are seen taking the first step, you will be rewarded with loyalty.

Consider your competition, and factors other than money—Onsite interpreters may be able to pursue more lucrative and flexible work with companies specializing in on-demand telephone and video interpreting. Some might even look outside the field entirely. “They say, ‘I can go drive for Uber and make more money,’” one Colorado court interpreter said of his colleagues in an interview with the Denver Post.

The issues go beyond paychecks. Interpreters have cited indifference to pandemic dangers, unfair or overly complex travel compensation policies, or indifference to their unemployment situation when proper attention to Covid safety shut down courts and other services. Take the time to review your policies and procedures, look at them from the point of view of the interpreters on the front lines, and survey interpreters to see if they bring up concerns you’re not currently aware of. Some changes may cost nothing, but send a clear message of respect.

The bottom line: Every team member needs to be properly compensated and know they are properly valued. If you don’t take action to ensure it, they will look for it elsewhere.

Communicate with clients, and prepare them for change—Another way to ensure you’re ahead of the curve is to discuss the situation with end clients and let them know changes will be necessary to give them the best possible service. You may want to review policies and procedures together to ensure that things are going as smoothly and safely as possible. For example, Covid is still a danger, so ensure every interpreter is safe on the job and (if possible) has a video interpreting option, especially for short interactions.

One important step is to encourage government clients to begin planning for high rates NOW. When Colorado’s court interpreters asked for increased compensation this April, they were told by a government official they would be kept “in the loop as we start planning for FY24.” At the time of this writing, many governments are already in the process of preparing budgets for 2023. Because government budgets can only be changed with great difficulty, it’s important to make sure you are addressing any interpreters’ concerns before things are set in stone for the next fiscal year.

Inflation and Interpreters — Agency Audience Version

If you serve the public by providing language interpreters, they (and you) are experiencing or about to experience an economic crisis. Let’s review what is happening and why, then move on to strategies.

Why Inflation is a Looming Problem for Language Agencies

Everyone is feeling pressure from inflation that is at a 40 year high, and interpreters are feeling the squeeze more than most. As their cost of living rises, they need increased compensation, but are seldom receiving it.

Wages rose sharply in most sectors last year as the economy rebounded from early pandemic waves. Then, a surge of economy-wide price inflation wiped out those gains, leaving workers with 2.7% less buying power than they had in 2019. Language interpreters, whose wages have been stagnant for years, face this without any increase in income to match the higher cost of goods, services, and housing.

This has resulted in many dropping out of the field, shifting jobs, or even going on strike. Beginning in late 2021, interpreters in court systems in Europe, Canada, and the United States began striking for higher wages. These strikes targeted court systems, including all courts in The Netherlands, Ontario, and Colorado. In California, a strike in Santa Clara County soon spread to the entire state. Because court interpreters are specialized and every litigant in these systems has a right to interpreting so that they can fully understand what is going on, courts ground to a halt.

To sum up, the combination of inflation and stagnant wages means higher service fees may be necessary, fewer interpreters may be available, and the end client may not be able to consistently offer services to those who depend on them.

How To Help Your Interpreters and Maintain Reliable Service

Every labor situation is unique, especially in a field with many agencies and independent contractors. But to keep interpreters working, we recommend you explore these options:

Be proactive and be the first to reach out—You know people are the true bedrock of any business, and that’s especially true in an industry where the stock in trade is expertise in helping others communicate.

Being proactive and getting ahead of the inflation problem is just smart business. If you ran a factory and needed a certain raw material to stay open, what would you do if it was trending toward shortage? You would reach out to providers and make sure that you had secured what you needed. The same applies to skilled labor, and if you are seen taking the first step, you will be rewarded with loyalty.

Consider your competition, and factors other than money—Onsite interpreters may be able to pursue more lucrative and flexible work with companies specializing in on-demand telephone and video interpreting. Some might even look outside the field entirely. “They say, ‘I can go drive for Uber and make more money,’” one Colorado court interpreter said of his colleagues in an interview with the Denver Post.

The issues go beyond paychecks. Interpreters have cited indifference to pandemic dangers, unfair or overly complex travel compensation policies, or indifference to their unemployment situation when proper attention to Covid safety shut down courts and other services. Take the time to review your policies and procedures, look at them from the point of view of the interpreters on the front lines, and survey interpreters to see if they bring up concerns you’re not currently aware of. Some changes may cost nothing, but send a clear message of respect.

The bottom line: Every team member needs to be properly compensated and know they are properly valued. If you don’t take action to ensure it, they will look for it elsewhere.

Communicate with clients, and prepare them for change—Another way to ensure you’re ahead of the curve is to discuss the situation with end clients and let them know changes will be necessary to give them the best possible service. You may want to review policies and procedures together to ensure that things are going as smoothly and safely as possible. For example, Covid is still a danger, so ensure every interpreter is safe on the job and (if possible) has a video interpreting option, especially for short interactions.

One important step is to encourage government clients to begin planning for high rates NOW. When Colorado’s court interpreters asked for increased compensation this April, they were told by a government official they would be kept “in the loop as we start planning for FY24.” At the time of this writing, many governments are already in the process of preparing budgets for 2023. Because government budgets can only be changed with great difficulty, it’s important to make sure you are addressing any interpreters’ concerns before things are set in stone for the next fiscal year.