COLUMBUS — Just two of Ohio’s 10 most common jobs pay more than $15 an hour at the median, and three don’t provide enough income to keep a family of three out of poverty.
In its Labor Day-timed report, the “State of Working Ohio,” the left-leaning group Policy Matters Ohio also reported that the state’s 2017 median wage of $17.79 an hour has increased just 4 cents from the previous year.
In July, Ohio’s unemployment rate was 4.6 percent, and rates fell in 76 of the state’s 88 counties. Meanwhile, the number of Ohio jobs, 5.6 million, has finally climbed back to the number it reached in 2001.
“I think that we all want to see low unemployment, we all want to see job growth. Since 2001, we want to see Ohio gain those jobs,” said Amy Hanauer, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio. “But when even an economy this hot can’t generate wage increases for workers and make a dent in inequality, we know something is structurally wrong.”
The economy looks good as measured by job growth and low unemployment, but wages remain stagnant, and the safety net isn’t as strong as it once was, Hanauer said.
“A 4-cent-an-hour raise is not a sign of a great economy,” Hanauer said.
Ohio’s median wage of $17.79 an hour is 49 cents less than the U.S. median wage of $18.28.
The report shows that of the 10 most common occupations in Ohio, three pay less than the official federal poverty line — $20,780 for a family of three — and nine pay less than twice the poverty line for a family that size. For example, more people work in food preparation and serving (158,070) than any other occupation. Their median pay is $9.21 per hour.
Larry Thomas, a career coach at the Columbus Urban League, works every day with companies in need of employees and with residents in need of jobs. Such matchmaking ought to be easy, and in some ways it is. But landing even a full-time job doesn’t guarantee that the worker will be able to meet living expenses in Columbus, where rents are rising at a pace among the fastest in the nation.
“A lot of these companies still want to stay at $12 an hour, and they wonder why people are walking off the job,” said Thomas, who often places workers in warehouse jobs created by the metro area’s vast and growing logistics industry. “We’re the 14th largest city in the United States, and we can’t provide these people with livable wages?”
Many companies also hire workers on a temporary basis or through staffing agencies. Shifts and hours also have changed: Some companies cut hours, and some embrace 12-hour workdays.
“You don’t find the normal eight-hour shifts much anymore,” Thomas said. “It kind of saves the companies a little bit of money — they don’t have shift switches three times; they only do it twice.”
That can be hard on workers already struggling with transportation and child care. And when workers struggle, he said, “employers have a weak workforce.”