I have previously blogged about the challenges of hiring for entry level positions at WMHS, primarily in service related jobs such has Environmental Services and Dietary. We also have difficulty with Certified Nursing Assistants for both the hospital and the nursing home. Recently, I heard Scott Justice, General Manager for the Rocky Gap Resort and Casino, talk about the same challenges. My response has been that government makes it very difficult for us due to the fact that they pay people not to work. To quote Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute in an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun, "while poor people aren't lazy, they aren't stupid either." Unfortunately for us, Maryland pays very well for people not to work. Previously, I was informed by the Dept. of Social Services for Maryland that we had to pay around $14 an hour to do better than what government will pay to those on welfare. I learned today after seeing Tanner's article referencing the Cato Institute report on the value of benefits by state that Maryland is the tenth "best" or most generous with an annual package of $35,672 or $17.15 per hour. Add to that the various earned income and child tax credits, a single mother of two would still have to earn over $18.35 per hour to do better than welfare, according to Tanner. Annually, that $18.35 per hour equates to $38,168 which is 94 percent of Maryland's median income. That is crazy! With that $38K, the recipient doesn't pay taxes, there are no child care costs, nor are there any costs associated with going to work such as clothing and transportation. As Tanner states, "welfare recipients are simply responding to incentive systems our public policy makers have established for them."
Now some good news for employers like WMHS and Rocky Gap; the most important thing to remember about poverty is that the only way to escape it is to be gainfully employed. There are many examples of entry level employees at WMHS who have gone on to obtain their college degrees and have achieved great success. Yours truly started in health care cleaning bedpans in Central Processing, but I went to school part time for nine years at night to attain my Bachelor's Degree as well as my Master's Degree. For a period of time right before I was married, I lived in poverty, but I used it as teachable moment that I never wanted to be poor again. It is obvious that to be on welfare may be advantageous for the short term, but it isn't a long term solution. Yesterday, Congressman Delaney of the 6th District in Maryland announced that he is pledging personal monies to increase the minimum wage in Maryland to $10. I am sure that he feels this would be a start in getting people to work over being on welfare, but it is an initiative that has repeatedly failed in Maryland. History tells us that mandated wage increases actually hurt those in entry level positions - not help them. As of October 1st, WMHS will adjust our entry level wage rate to $9.55 per hour. It is short of the Delaney goal and well short of the welfare rate, but I am still hopeful that there are individuals who want something better for themselves and their families. That entry level wage rate coupled with a generous array of benefits, an opportunity for advancement, and the potential to work with a great group of people will hopefully appeal to the right person who wants to make a difference is their life as well as the lives of others.