Study: Solid economic growth yet to drive up pay broadly in Ohio


By Mark Ferenchik and Mark Price and Rita Price - The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)



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.”

Vacancies and turnover rates often rise when workers are unhappy with conditions and wages.

Policy Matters Ohio believes the state should increase the hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2025. The group also believes that the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion should stay in place; that more money should be invested in conservation, renewable energy and transit because they can create jobs in manufacturing, construction and other sectors that offer higher pay; and that federal and state policies that direct tax cuts to wealthy people should be reversed.

“We need to get back to an economy that works for all of us,” Hanauer said.

Ned Hill, an economics professor at Ohio State University, said what is challenging Ohio is an oversupply of semi-skilled workers.

“What the entire political system has given up on is the role of government to redistribute income,” he said.

But Hill said he doesn’t believe that wage problems can be fixed by setting wages “artificially” high. He said that will lead to more automation and job cuts.

“If wages get too high, you either substitute technology or go bankrupt. There’s always the threat,” he said.

Cathi Steele, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Workers Association, said some of her group’s members work more than one job just to pay their rent or utility bills. And as rents head skyward, some people with jobs are still getting evicted.

“A good economy is deceiving,” Steele said.

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By Mark Ferenchik and Mark Price and Rita Price

The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)

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