For 20 years, the single mother of two has worked for the state of South Carolina. Today, she makes less than $40,000, S.C. lawmakers were told Wednesday.
That state worker – who also has a part-time job elsewhere to help make ends meet – is looking to leave government for another job, said Angelee Williams, president of the S.C. State Employees Association.
“Please don’t think that I am ungrateful for my job,” the state worker, whose name was not disclosed, told association executive director Carlton Washington by email in November of last year. “I know how fortunate I am to be employed. But, when it comes to my salary, it is sad that after I have worked most of my life ... I am not being paid a competitive wage.”
The low pay of state workers dramatically affects their attitudes and the ability of state agencies to recruit new workers, Washington wrote legislators earlier this month.
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And state agencies, which have about 36,000 state-paid employees, need new workers.
Last year, those agencies had more than 6,000 vacant full-time positions. Another 10,000 state workers are expected to leave their jobs over the next five years as they reach retirement age.
Advocates for state workers criticized the Legislature on Wednesday for failing to act on a 2016 study that found the state lagged in competitive pay for its workers, compared with its Southeastern neighbors.
Williams, a longtime human resources manager at the S.C. Department of Corrections, told a House budget subcommittee Wednesday it was irresponsible that legislators had not acted on the 2016 study, which cost the state about $300,000.
“You can go to any state employee and ask them how do they feel about their wages, and they’re going to tell you, ‘I don’t think I am being paid enough,’ ” she said Wednesday.
About 75 percent of all state workers earn less than roughly $41,000 a year. Half earn less than about $34,000 a year, according to the state Department of Administration.
“Morale is at an all-time low, and South Carolina is not getting the best from employees,” Washington wrote to state Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Beaufort, this month. “Recruitment and retention problems are suffocating the state’s ability to perform critical and, in some cases, life-saving services.”
No one doubts that many state workers are underpaid, Herbkersman said Wednesday. But, he added, lawmakers also need to look at the pay study’s other recommendations.
Headway has been made, he said. “But we need to finish the job.”