State employes "are struggling with inflation as all of us are. They have seen federal employes' pay increase much beyond theirs. . . They have seen the private sector move up beyond them. They have seen local government in some areas of this state move beyond them, so I think (a pay raise) would be my number one priority" if funds can be found. -- Gov. Harry Hughes, in a press conference last week.

Xavier Yeoman is a state employee. At 26, he is the father of two little girls and earns $8,600 a year before taxes -- $329.87 take-home pay every two weeks -- the entry level salary for a worker at a facility for the mentally retarded.

"You bring home your little check and pay your bills and that's it," said Yeoman. "It makes you want to throw up your hands and holler."

He makes less money than state officials say the "average" state employee makes, but there are many like him among the 79,400 state workers, according to union figures. Annual salries in Maryland range from $7,654 for an entry level clerk to $60,000 for the governor, with the bulk of the employes falling in the $11,000 to $15,000 range.

State employees will not get a cost of living raise in their salaries this year unless the General Assembly can trim enough from other areas of the budget to produce a revenue surplus in March.

Yeoman canvassed his coworkers at the Great Oaks Center in Silver Spring and found that many shared his frustration. The employes there feel the effect both of the possible salary freeze and of cuts Gov. Harry Hughes has proposed for Maryland's health and human services departments, one of the most severly hit areas in the governor's no-growth budget. The Great Oaks Center was informed this month of cutbacks in their current budget, placing the facility under a hiring freeze through July.

"When you do this kind of work, it's emotionally exhausting as well as physically exhausting. Then when they talk about taking away your money, that doesn't do anything for you," said Yeoman as he relaxed in the comfortable living room of his modern, two-bedroom apartment in Rockville. t

"Can I ask you a question?" he said. "Why would they want to take from people who are trying to help people who can't help themselves?"

"What do you do if you're sick? If you're sick, you're sick. Same thing if you're mentally retarded. You're mentally retarded. So what are you going to do?"

A 6-foot-7, former University of Richmond basketball star who worker with special olympics programs for the handicapped when he was in college, he noticed the Great Oaks Center one day and walked in to apply for a job.

He loves it, he said, despite his working hours -- 3:30 to 11:30 p.m. -- and the frequent double shifts until 7:30 the next morning to earn overtime pay. He loves working with people. It's the first job he's had that he likes and wants to make it his career. After graduating from the University of Richmond in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science degree in communications, he has tried everything from construction to pest control.

On construction sites he found himself working with young, single men who talked only of girlfriends and good times, and with whom he had little in common.

"How many guys are 26 years old with two kids and trying to make it happen? It gets lonely," he said of himself.

Now he's in a dilemma.

"I want to work for the health department because I want to work around people and I think I could do a lot of good. I don't want to get out of this field, but I may have to," said Yeoman, who the patients call Tiny.

"You want to be happy in your work, but who wants to work for nothing?"

Yeoman's wife, who works for the federal government, makes twice the salary he does, and that's how they manage to pay $300 a month rent for their apartment and the $150 a month for a babysitter for Arien, age 2, and Arnee, age 1.

"How do you think that makes me feel?" asked Yeoman. "It does a lot for my ego."

He said that he and his wife are not fussy about what they eat or how often they go out for dinner, which is rarely. Their working hours and paychecks see to that. But they make sure their daughters eat well. Their apartment is comfortable and attractive, with a three-piece sofa set that belonged to Elsie Yeoman before her marriage and a collection of plants that lost their foliage to children's curious fingers. Their two cars are old, but paid for, and Yeoman finds much satisfaction in having no debts.

His pay at the Great Oaks Center will increase to $11,850 after five years. He's been there only six months now, and is paid the entry level salary for direct care workers.

His wife wishes he had a better paying job. "But she knows it makes me happy. I've taken her to Great Oaks. She's met some of my favorite kids there. She knows how much it means to me," said Yeoman.

Living in Montgomery County, where the median household income was $27,315 in 1979 compared to $19,179 for the state, is not easy but it means only a half hour commute to work for him and 20 minutes for his wife. "I live here because I work here. Why live in Frederick and let the gas eat me up?"

He notices the prices in supermarkets are higher than in Prince George's County but he also values a special program in a nearby Montgomery County school for his daughter, who has a speech problem.

"It's not so much keeping up with the Joneses. It's just hanging in there and keeping it up for yourself," he said.