State government workers from throughout Missouri gathered at the Capitol Wednesday to urge lawmakers to increase state pay.
The 2016 state budget passed by the Missouri legislature does not include a pay increase for state workers. Governor Jay Nixon (D) did not include a raise in his budget proposal either.
According to the Missouri Department of Economic Development, 16 states have an average annual cost-of-living lower than Missouri’s, but none of those states pay their workers less on average than Missouri. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also ranks Missouri last in the nation in terms of state government worker pay.
Democrat State Representative Jon Carpenter said wages will need to be raised more than once.
“This isn’t just a one year fix, this isn’t something that we just need to give them a two-percent raise next year and wash our hands of it, we are way behind,” said Carpenter. “It’s going to take several years in a row I think of steady state pay increases to get us, you know, I’m not trying to get the state to where we are way above average, I’m just trying to get us to average, gets us to parity with other states.”
Development Assistant Juma Jones has worked with mental patients at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center for 17 years and said he has not had a pay raise in seven years.
“I started out making probably $650 every two weeks, that’s after taxes, and now it’s probably maybe another extra hundred dollars after all the years I’ve been there,” said Jones. “I was always told, you always want to get a job that you want to wake up to everyday, and I like helping people that are in need. I like my job, they’re like family and if I’m not at work they’re looking for me.”
Jones works multiple jobs and wants lawmakers to understand the personal struggle that comes with low wages. Jones said he takes care of veterans, the sick, and mentally ill, but he needs help to support his own family.
“Every two weeks I get paid I got to make a decision on whose not going to get paid or are the kids going to eat today and I might have to eat a sandwich or something,” said Jones. “I’m tired of my kids raising themselves, I need to be there with my kids.”
Carpenter said he supports a five-year plan to raise Missouri’s state workers’ wages to meet the cost of living in Missouri, but did not detail that plan or say where money for raises would come from.