The Garrett County Democratic Club hosted a non-partisan informational public forum to discuss economic development in Garrett County. After a presentation by Commissioner Hinebaugh, those in attendance asked questions of the commissioners, and approximately 25 percent of attendees completed a “before and after” survey form.
There were several recurring issues raised during the question period and in the survey responses. Many people are concerned about jobs in the county. During his presentation, however, Commissioner Hinebaugh minimized this concern and claimed there were more job openings in the county than there were people looking for jobs. The county, however, does not seem to have any sort of workforce development effort to help match people looking for work with available job openings.
Another issue that came up repeatedly was the need for jobs that pay a living wage with benefits. Commissioner Hinebaugh presented information documenting low wages in Garrett County compared to the rest of Maryland. Specifically, average weekly pay in the trade, transportation and utilities sector in Garrett County is 65 percent of the state average; in leisure and hospitality sector it is 73 percent of the state average; in education and health it is 72 percent of the state average; and in the local government sector it is 71 percent of the state average.
Average weekly wages in smaller sectors in the economy compare less favorably to corresponding state averages. For example, jobs in professional and business services are 7.2 percent of employment in the county, but their average weekly wages are just 55 percent of the state average; similarly, manufacturing employment is 8 percent of employment and average wages are just 53 percent of the state average and financial activities account for 4.8 percent of employment and average wages are just 36 percent of the state average.
In response to a question by Judy Carbone about wage gender equity and the abysmal statistic that women in Garrett County make 69 cents for every dollar men make (the national average is 82 cents), the commissioners admitted that they hadn't been aware, let alone thought about how to work on improving it.
Nationally, as the unemployment rate declines there is increasing pressure to raise wages and benefits to attract qualified workers. That does not seem to be happening in Garrett County. Why are wages in the county consistently significantly lower than wages in the state?
Paying a living wage to workers in Garrett County, along with needed benefits, was not one of the overarching goals these commissioners set for themselves at the beginning of there term. We need to have elected officials who are aware of, and concerned about, the challenges faced by everyday hard-working citizens of Garrett County.
Betty Pritt, President
Garrett County Democratic Club