A state with $8 billion in unpaid bills and at least $90 billion in unfunded pension obligations cannot afford to overpay for anything, even wages for child protection workers. So while some lawmakers may want to grant the Department of Children and Family Services, or DCFS, with a supplemental appropriation to facilitate an agreement to reorganize the department, that would be an appropriation the state cannot afford.
According to information the Illinois Policy Institute received in a recent FOIA request, the average salary for DCFS child protection and child welfare workers increased to $74,400 in 2012 from about $51,700 in 2003; that amounts to more than a 40 percent raise. These union-negotiated pay raises easily outstripped inflation at a time when the average Illinois worker’s wages hardly even kept pace with the cost of living. If DCFS had pegged its wages to those of an average Illinois employee, average pay for its employees would be in the neighborhood of $64,000 – which is about $10,000 less than DCFS workers currently receive. As long as that remains the case, there are still more savings to be found at DCFS.
Quality government services is about more than money, which is good news if one thinks about it because Illinois doesn’t have much money to spend. All state agencies will need to think creatively and make taxpayer dollars go further. Additionally, both managers and employees need to adjust to tight budgets, not just for a few months, but for the next several years.
As much as one might want to reward DCFS for its reorganization, the psychic reward of knowing that they are doing more to protect children during a difficult time will have to suffice for the foreseeable future.
Paul Kersey is Director of Labor Reform at the Illinois Policy Institute