Monday, January 4, 2016

What to expect: Republicans Love Low Wages

As we enter the 2016 legislative session, Cottonmouth will be sharing a series of posts on what to expect. This is the first time the Republicans have held both chambers and the executive branch. We'll be focusing on a few issues early on, and we'll be watching as the session progresses. 

Mississippi workers don’t get paid very much. For the most part, the pay is less than less than very much. Most agencies have been decrying the problem for years, along with college leaders who are training Mississippians to go work in other states. Our Republican leadership has pretty much ignored the problem for the past 12 years, but there are two things that might bring it to the forefront in the next year.

First, prominent Republican-appointees are taking the issue to the media. MDOC head Marshall Fisher has been complaining about the poor pay rate and high turnover rate of correction officers since before his first day on the job. In interviews last week with the newly appointed foster-care head, Justice David Chandler criticized how social workers are paid less than teachers. While the legislature did find a way to raise teacher pay a few years ago, Mississippi teachers are still some of the lowest paid in the country. And yes, social workers are paid less than teachers – a lot less.

Second, the complete lack of income growth across the country (and, of course in our own state) will be a presidential issue next year. There is no avoiding the topic, as much as Republicans may want to. So far, no elected officials are making better pay their issue. For starters, in every agency, most of the pay rates for each job are so much lower than even our southern counterparts, it’s hard to even know where or how much to begin with – it’s really that bad. It’s easy for politicians and the state to get away with paying people less when they promote the retirement and healthcare benefits. However, the actual take home pay for most people, especially starting out is not anywhere equal to the dream of “two cars and a boat,” that Governor Bryant is touting with workforce training. Plus, most of these jobs (social workers, teachers) require a four-year college degree. So, not only are people taking home $1515/month*, but they also are probably paying off some sort of student loan.

Republicans might offer incremental raises to the lowest paid workers, or to MDOC officers and DHS workers, or some combination, but it’s doubtful they’ll be able to raise the pay to 1) attract quality candidates who will stay or 2) compete with other states’ pay rates. Perhaps, this will wait until 2019.

*Where this math came from: Entry level DHS job posting in Hinds County has a pay rate of $23,643. When entered into an online take-home pay calculator, without taking anything for retirement or additional medical insurance payments, and factoring this at the single and no dependents rate, take home pay was approximately $1515/month.

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