A recent report argued many Ohio workers are not seeing the benefits usually associated with low unemployment and higher productivity, despite an economy that has clearly improved.
The national recovery from the Great Recession has been slow, but there has been steady job growth and low unemployment, said Amy Hanauer, executive director Policy Matters Ohio, a think tank that focuses on economic issues. But she said there’s cause for concern that the improvements have not benefited all Ohioans equally, potentially making it tougher for families to get by if the economy slides again.
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“We think the economy is doing better,” Hanauer said. “We just thought at the end of an expansion we did not see the gains we would like to see.”
When adjusted for inflation, the state’s 2017 median wage of $17.79 was up just four cents per hour compared to the previous year, according to Policy Matters Ohio’s annual State of Working Ohio report. Policy Matters used information from the Current Population Survey from the U.S. Census bureau to compile the report.
In Clark County, officials from the Chamber of Greater Springfield pointed to separate information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed average wages in Clark County have outpaced state growth. Average annual wages per worker in Clark County increased about 3 percent during the past four most recent quarters, said Amy Donahoe, director of hiring and employer services for the Chamber of Greater Springfield. Average gains in Ohio were about 1 percent.
The data from the Chamber covers a different time period and focused on average growth, while Policy Matters looked at the median wage. It is also not clear whether the figures provided by the chamber were adjusted for inflation.
Donahoe said low unemployment has caused several local companies to adjust wages and other benefits to keep workers from leaving for competing business.The county’s population has also showed more stability recently, which Donahoe said is a signal that workers believe there are more opportunities locally. One of Clark County’s biggest challenges was that it was steadily losing population for years, she said.
The News-Sun reported earlier this year that Census Bureau data showed Clark County’s estimated population dropped by more than 1,000 residents between 2015 and 2016 alone, but fell by only 64 residents last year.
“For many years we were seeing people move out of Clark County,” Donahoe said.
One other challenge statewide is workers in some of the state’s most common jobs earn too little to provide for a family of three without qualifying for food assistance.
The Policy Matters report showed of Ohio’s 10 most common jobs, three pay less than the official poverty line to support a family of three and nine jobs paid less than twice that rate. Some of the most common jobs included food preparation and serving, registered nurses, retail salespersons, general office clerks and stock clerks. A list of Springfield’s most common positions was similar to the statewide results.
“This in a nutshell explains the challenge in the Ohio economy: The most common jobs are generally not family-sustaining,” the report says.
Some of the Policy Matter report’s recommendations included boosting the minimum wage and improving scheduling and overtime protections for salaried workers earning less than $48,00o per year.