JEFFERSON CITY • It would cost Missouri taxpayers nearly $13.7 million to bring state employee salaries more in line with the marketplace, a long-awaited study has found.
The report, released by Gov. Jay Nixon’s office on Friday, found that the base salary for 37,906 prison guards, social service workers and other state employees is the lowest in the nation and more than 10 percent below what is considered competitive in the job market.
The results are not a surprise. Low wages paid to state workers have been a thorn in the side of state government for years and have led to high turnover rates, costing taxpayers additional money in overtime and training.
According to a separate 2015 report filed by the Office of Administration’s personnel division, the Missouri Department of Mental Health saw 25.7 percent of its employees leave the workforce that year. The state’s largest agency — the 10,958-employee Department of Corrections — had a turnover rate of 16.3 percent.
The new report, compiled by St. Louis-based CBIZ Human Capital Services at a maximum cost of $300,000, found benefits, including health insurance, are better than average, but still not enough to offset the low salaries.
“State employees are hardworking public servants who have dedicated their careers to keeping Missouri a great place to live, work and raise a family,” said Doug Nelson, commissioner of Nixon’s Office of Administration. “This study will help determine what can be done to help enhance Missouri’s ability to attract, retain and motivate qualified workers.”
Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said he hopes the study can be used to develop a plan to address the salary issue.
"Missouri's state employees are its number one asset, and these employees have grown weary of decades of political-speak about improving their pay. This study will provide a mechanism to move from talk to action," Kehoe said in a statement Friday.
Lawmakers and Nixon have attempted to address the low salary levels in recent years, handing out a number of small raises and bonuses. This year, the budget included money for 2 percent raises.
But that hasn’t been enough to close the gap with other states. As an example of the disparity between Missouri and neighboring Illinois, the advertised pay range for an entry level prison guard in Missouri is $28,260 to $39,084. In Illinois, correctional officer trainees are paid $42,432 annually.
After adjusting wages based on a national scale, the study found the average state worker in Missouri earns $39,682.
The study shows that Iowa pays its state workers the best in the nation after the wages are adjusted at $70,458. That is more than $2,000 higher than the No. 2 state of California.
Illinois is ranked third at $65,343. Kansas’ adjusted salary level of $52,352 is ranked 21st. Kentucky is 42nd with an adjusted average wage of $46,768.
The analysis also address disparities within Missouri. It found that a statewide salary of $44,000 should be adjusted to $46,037 if it were to remain competitive in St. Louis. By contrast, that same pay could be lowered to $40,260 in rural Ripley County, located along the Arkansas border.
However, the consultants noted that a state law bars geographic differentials in compensation.
By agency, the Department of Corrections had the highest number of employees working for less than the market rate at 1,194. The study found the Missouri Department of Transportation had the fewest number of workers below the threshold among the state’s largest agencies.
The report also found that Missouri is out of step with the labor market when it comes to the time period it takes for workers to qualify for a full pension. The state currently requires a 10-year wait, while a 5-year vesting period for retirement benefits is more common.
“The state should reduce the ten-year vesting requirement because it is out of step with trends in the market,” the study notes. “The millennial generation has shown a willingness to change jobs often and typically places a much higher value on benefits that vest quickly and are transportable. Additionally, the ten year vesting creates a challenge in attracting `second career’ employees, who may be deterred by the ten-year requirement.”