Mark Swartz works close to fifty hours a week to make a living to support his family at his barbershop on 14th Avenue in Rock Island.
He says the $73,000 average salary for state prison barbers in Illinois is out of line.
“That sounds like an overpaid barber. That’s a lot of money for this line of work. You’d have to cut a lot of hair,” he said. “No barber expects to make that kind of money when they go into business. It’s over the top,” he said.
Some prison barbers make more. According to the Illinois Department of Corrections website, several earn salaries of more than $81,000 per year. That includes the barber at Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg.
Prison barbers say they earn every nickel because of the potential dangers of working with inmates. Some train inmates to cut hair and serve in an administrative role.
Barber Steve Bivens has worked in the private sector for 51 years. He says the average barber in the private sector makes between $35,000 to $50,000 a year. He says when you add in the pension for state workers with the annual three percent increase, there is an increasingly great divide between public and private sector workers.
“State workers, they’re guaranteed. In the private sector, you’re not guaranteed. It’s a gamble,” Bivens said.
Swartz says it’s nice work if you can get it.
“I’d say they could hire someone for a lot less. I’m in the wrong line of work. Well, in the right line of work, but doing it for myself instead of the state,” he said.