Policy Matters Ohio Report Documents Uneven Economic Impact of COVID

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped Ohio’s economy, forcing hundreds of thousands of Ohioans out of the workforce and exacerbating racial, gender and income inequality, according to Policy Matters Ohio’s annual report on Ohio’s workforce.

“The State of Working Ohio 2021: Meeting the Moment” looks at government policies not only in terms of protecting people’s well-being but also supporting the larger economy.
“Too often, analysts measure the economy by corporate profits and stock prices,” said Policy Matters Ohio researcher and report lead author Michael Shields. “Our report focuses on the real drivers of the economy: people. For years, certain politicians and some of the corporate interests that back them have divided us by race for their profit. They held down working people’s wages and attacked the right to join a union. Over the past year we’ve seen how government action can rebuild power for working people and protect people’s wellbeing. Ending those efforts prematurely would leave many Ohioans behind.”

Policy Matters Ohio is an advocacy group that researches issues related to the economy and racial equity.
Among the report’s major findings:

  • Long-term trends show that Ohio’s wealthiest and highest-paid hoarded pre-COVID prosperity. Unprecedented fiscal stimulus provides policymakers with the opportunity to reshape the economy so more people prosper.
  • More than a year after COVID-19 displaced over 1 million Ohioans from their jobs, as of July 2021, Ohio still had 269,000 fewer jobs than pre-pandemic.
  • COVID-19 disproportionately forced low-paid Ohioans out of their jobs – skewing the wage data which shows a higher median wage last year. For example, there were nearly 25% fewer waitresses and waiters in Ohio than there were in 2019. The leisure and hospitality industry accounted for 28% of all the state’s jobs destroyed during COVID. 
  • People who hold “essential jobs” are at higher risk for COVID exposure; are more likely to be Black or brown, and are also paid nearly 13% less than those with nonessential jobs. 
  • COVID-19 exacerbated long-standing structural barriers that hold down wages for Black, brown and immigrant workers and exclude them from job opportunities. Last year, white Ohioans were paid $21 an hour at the median compared to $16 for Black Ohioans. At 15%, the unemployment rate for Black Ohioans was more than double the rate for white Ohioans, 6.8%.
  • Ohio women were more likely than men to be laid off or forced to leave their jobs, reversing years of progress. Their employment-to-population rate fell from 55.6% in 2019 to 52.7% in 2020. Women were paid $18 an hour compared to $21.50 for men.
  • Many Ohioans couldn’t count on their wages or traditional sources of income to make ends meet last year. They tapped credit cards, took out loans, sold assets and borrowed from family and friends. For many – both working and not – government stimulus payments were critical.
  • Higher education and union membership improve working people’s wages. The typical Ohio union worker was paid $23.47 an hour compared to $18.46 for the typical nonunion worker. People with a bachelor’s degree were paid $30.17 an hour compared to $16.95 for those with a high school diploma. Over time, a college degree has insulated some workers from pay decreases experienced by less-educated workers. Yet a college degree doesn’t make up for years of policies and practices that have excluded and exploited people of color. Black high-school grads and college grads are both paid 79-cents on the dollar compared with their white counterparts.

Shields makes a number of policy recommendations:

  • Lawmakers must protect working people’s right to join a union – and can start by passing the federal Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.
  • Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and including tipped workers by 2026 would increase wages for more than 1.56 million Ohioans and circulate an additional $6 billion in the state’s economy.
  • State and local policymakers can use American Rescue Plan dollars to center working people with hazard pay for essential workers; enforcing wage and hour laws; and ensuring the entire community benefits from public projects, not just the corporations that win the contracts.
  • Federal policymakers should continue and make permanent stimulus programs that provided Americans with more financial stability like the expanded Child Tax Credit and pandemic unemployment assistance.

“We are at a watershed moment for working people,” Shields said. “Our elected leaders can rewrite the rules to make sure all people have a decent standard of living and the opportunity to pursue a better future.”

SOURCE: Policy Matters Ohio.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.