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Reeder: It pays to hold a state job in Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – Every once in a while, you’ll hear some hokum about how poor and underpaid state workers are.

I’m not buying it, and neither should you.

In a recent study conducted by my colleagues at the Illinois Policy Institute, salaries for a variety of state jobs were compared with those in the private sector.

On average, people holding blue-collar jobs are paid far more working for the state of Illinois than they would if they were working for a private business doing the same job.

Putting it bluntly, going to work for the state can be a pretty good deal, particularly if you don’t have a lot of education.

Just consider:

• The average salary for a state-employed janitor is $49,771, compared with the private sector state average of $26,290.

• The average salary of a state-employed barber is $73,123, compared with the private sector state average of $35,340.

• The average salary for a state-employed cook is $51,224, compared with a private sector state average of $24,670.

It’s the same story with a host of other jobs. Welders make an average of $37,820 in the private sector, compared with $49,771 working for state government. Painters make $50,830 in the private sector, but collect an average of $67,700 working for the state.

And it’s those private-sector employees who are paying taxes to support state workers in a lifestyle grander than they will likely achieve themselves.

That’s not right, said Carl Joe Tomizoli, a janitor working in a private building only a block away from the Illinois Capitol.

“Maybe those janitors working for the state should make $30,000 – with benefits. But there is no way they are worth $49,000,” he said.

Tomizoli said his private-sector job requires him to do much more than his counterparts with the state. He said he is paid $11 per hour and receives no benefits.

“You do what you have to do to support your family,” said Tomizoli, 45, who has done custodial work for 15 years in addition to holding a variety of odd jobs.

By the way, these aforementioned salary comparisons don’t count retirement benefits.

State workers get pensions in retirement that not only guarantee a certain income, but also are enhanced with annual cost-of-living adjustments. (That’s one of the main reasons the state is in dire financial straits.)

On the other hand, 80 percent of private sector employees have defined contribution plans, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, where there are no guarantees of a particular payouts.

And you guessed it – it is those private-sector employees who are paying taxes to support the retirements of state workers.

The state has divorced itself from economic realities. Know a business that gives out raises to most of its employees while it’s teetering on insolvency?

Me neither.

But that’s what the state of Illinois is doing – with our money.

It’s time for state leadership to wake up and smell economic reality.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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