Adam Andrzejewski, founder and head of OpenTheBooks, a nonprofit advocating for transparency in government spending, led the investigation that found how much of Illinois' public spending goes to employee salaries. (Related: Indictment tsunami: 30-year speaker could go down as most corrupt Dem in Illinois history.)
"While crime skyrockets in the neighborhoods, test scores plummet in the public schools and inflation decimates private sector paychecks, the Illinois public employee class is living the good life," wrote Andrzejewski in his Substack account. He noted that the amount of public funding that goes to salaries and pensions is costing Illinois taxpayers over $17 billion each year.
The auditors at OpenTheBooks found that nearly 500 employees in Illinois public schools earn between $200,000 to $439,000 a year. Presidents of suburban community colleges could rake in nearly $420,000 a year. At the University of Illinois Chicago, three doctors earn between $1 million to $2.1 million a year.
In small towns, city managers make as much as $341,300 a year. Barbers employed by the Illinois Department of Corrections earn as much as $104,000. Janitors working for the Chicago Transit Authority earn as much as $143,634. Bus drivers working for the transit authority could earn nearly $243,000.
Some retired politicians are also earning triple digits, thanks to Illinois' pension system. Richard M. Daley, who served as Chicago's mayor from 1989 to 2011, takes nearly $250,000 a year in pensions – $158,076 per year for being a former state senator and another $91,560 per year for being a former mayor of Chicago.
Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar is also "double dipping" in the state pension system, according to Andrzejewski. He earns $186,660 per year from the General Assembly pension and $90,336 from the University Retirement System pension, bringing what he takes from taxpayers per year to a total of $276,996.
The number of public employees in Illinois who are being overpaid is also increasing. In 2017, only 63,000 public employees earned over $100,000. This number shot up to nearly 110,000 in 2020, and over 122,000 last year.
As of 2021, nearly 14 percent of Illinois' entire workforce is made up of public employees working either at the state, local or federal level. This accounts for nearly 786,000 public sector workers – which is actually down 7.8 percent from the number of public sector workers the state had in 2010.
Only a handful of other states, including California and New York, employ more public sector workers – the former has nearly 2.49 million public workers, and the latter has over 1.44 million.
Given this, it should be noted that the over 132,000 public employees who make $100,000 or more actually only represent a fraction of Illinois' public sector workforce. Many, like Del Jacobs, a SNAP-Ed community worker, earn so little that they qualify for food stamps themselves.
SNAP-Ed, the educational arm of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, colloquially known as the food stamp program, operates in all 50 states and has been around for 30 years. The goal of SNAP-Ed is to educate people in low-income communities on how to make the most of their food assistance.
Jacobs works in Illinois' SNAP-Ed program, which is handled by the University of Illinois System. She has been working here for over six years and only earns $13.79 an hour. In all that time, her wage has only gone up by $1 per hour.
"It's not enough," she said. Unfortunately, Jacobs is just one of the thousands of other workers in the state's SNAP-Ed program earning far too little. Jacobs has even had to take on a second job as a housecleaner to make ends meet. She earns over $25 an hour cleaning people's houses.
"Isn't that sad? That I get more for cleaning a house than I do for doing [my] actual job?" she asked.
Since Jacobs was interviewed by Harvest Public Media, Illinois' SNAP-Ed program has raised the minimum hourly pay of its workers to $15.67.
SNAP-Ed workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union pushed for wage increases through negotiations. Union stewards, including Jacobs, spent months negotiating a new contract. The university system's main sticking point was wage increases.
Union negotiators pointed out how overpaid many of the state's public employees are. For example, last year, the director of Illinois' SNAP-Ed program made $55.29 per hour – more than four times the hourly wage of SNAP-Ed's previous minimum of $12.77 per hour.
Jacobs herself received her first significant raise after more than six years on the job earlier this year. She now earns $16.51 per hour. She noted that she will not stop fighting for even higher wages.
"Now that we aren't getting poverty wages anymore, I want to work on getting us a living wage," she said.
Watch this clip from Fox Business discussing how Americans want to see policies that will reduce the bloated government spending.