Peer Support and the US 2020 Census

The United States 2020 Census is here!  Why is that important to peer support specialists? Believe it or not, the census governs a lot of what happens in our lives - one example is the building of bridges.  It could affect the growth of peer support also!

While the 2020 Census does not collect occupational information, it will be followed in September by the American Community Survey (ACS) sent to 3.5 million households, which does ask for occupational information.

The International Association of Peer Supporters has embarked on a long-range plan to have Peer Support Specialists considered to be a Standard Occupational Classification by the Department of Labor.  Until this time, peer support has not been a distinct classification.  Our Workforce Development Committee began work on this in 2018 by developing a definition that demonstrated the unique way in which peer support specialists work.  That definition has been commented on in surveys, caucuses and focus groups.   

Two very significant differences of peer support are that peer support workers use personal experiences to encourage individuals to pursue recovery and have hope and empowerment in their lives; and the peer support goal is “recovery,” not meeting diagnostic criteria.  Peer support employs a “strengths-based” approach that, instead of focusing on problems, asks people to recognize and use their strengths to pursue their hopes and dreams.  These are major differences from any other behavioral health profession.

The 2018 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system is a federal statistical standard used by federal agencies to classify workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, or disseminating data. All workers are classified into one of 867 detailed occupations according to their occupational definition. To facilitate classification, detailed occupations are combined to form 459 broad occupations, 98 minor groups, and 23 major groups. Detailed occupations in the SOC with similar job duties, and in some cases skills, education, and/or training, are grouped together.

Some occupations are easy to classify.  For instance, there is a small, select group of astronauts.  Differentiating between behavioral health professions that have some things in common is more difficult, which is why this workforce development group has already labored on this topic.  We must make the case to prove that peer support is a very distinct profession.

 Current published information suggests that as of 2016, there were about 25,300 certified mental health peer support specialists in the United States[1], with thousands more working in peer support positions in a variety of behavioral health settings and roles.  25,000 individuals appear to be the number that is considered significant enough to be a qualified profession by the Department of Labor.

The next changes for Standard Occupational Classifications will be announced around 2028. However, it is essential to begin working on this now.  After talking to some experts in Washington DC last summer, I was encouraged to ask our members and anyone who is a peer support specialist, recovery coach, peer counselor or any title that is equivalent to peer support specialist, to make sure when they filled out their ACS survey either by paper, online or on the phone, to state their profession as peer support specialist.  This would include any supervisor who has peer support certification.

If enough “thousands” of peer support specialists complete the ACS with peer support specialist as their stated profession, the Department of Labor will notice and investigate this new profession; and when we pursue a new classification, it will have more impact. Once a classification is recognized, the Bureau of Statistics collects data including numbers and salary which are valuable to the profession. 

Please complete your US Census survey this spring. Then when you receive the ACS survey in September, please list your profession as peer support specialist!   We peer support specialists are already proud of what we do and the tremendous outcomes that we have witnessed in ourselves and others.  Being recognized as a Department of Labor Standard Occupational Classification would give us an “official” status.  iNAPS and its many partners look forward to that day. Please help us get the attention of the US Department of Labor!

Original article By Mike Weaver 12/9/19, updated by the Workforce Development Group 1/18/20

[1] Wolf, J. (2018). National trends in peer specialist certification. Psychiatric Services 69(10), 1049. Doi: 10.1176/