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“Even though the unemployment rate is down, and even though a lot of the jobs lost during the recession have been replaced, what they’ve been replaced with is low-wage, part-time jobs,” Wolf-Knight said. “In order to make the same amount of money they have to have three jobs because different organizations don’t want to pay for health insurance. They find it easier to have two employees doing the job of one so they don’t have to pay for health insurance.”
Ohio’s recovery from the recession has been slow in general, and the biggest gains have been very regional. Central Ohio and the Cincinnati areas are doing better than Dayton and rural areas of the state. Columbus and Cincinnati have both recovered jobs since the recession and added new positions, but Dayton was still about 3,000 jobs below pre-recession employment in 2018, Halbert said.
With unemployment hitting new lows across the country and in Ohio, many expect wages to rise to fit supply and demand, said Michael Lipsitz, a professor of economics at Miami University. While there has been some modest wage growth, workers haven’t gained that much bargaining power despite the fewer people available to fill positions.
“Employers right now know that they can attract employees with low wages,” he said. “People became so disgruntled over the course of the recession, they got used to lower wages and now their reference point is a little bit lower than it might otherwise have been and employers are taking advantage of that.”
In today’s purchasing power, Ohio’s minimum wage in 1968 was about $12, Halbert said. Today it’s $8.55.
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Some of the biggest policy discussions in Ohio revolve around raising the minimum wage, right to work laws that would give employees a chance to opt out of a union, expanding access for tax credits to more women, increasing access to public preschools, increasing access to paid family and medical leave, eliminating the tipped wages that severely disadvantage women of color and increasing the affordability of child care, Wolf-Knight said.
Childcare is one of the biggest issues when it comes to low wages for single breadwinner families, Lipsitz said. It’s not only costly, but it can prevent some single parents from any sort of labor mobility.
“The way that people are able to increase their wages get out of that cycle of poverty is by finding new jobs that pay them more, and maybe they don’t even take that job. Maybe they use that job to convince their employer to pay them more. But that’s really difficult to do when you have to go pick up your kids from grandma’s house right after work,” he said.
Other times employers only give schedules 48 hours in advance, but job interviews need to be scheduled before that and workers risk losing their current job in hopes of new one.
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Workers in low-wage jobs also risk losing their jobs when children or other family members become ill and they need time off. About 4 percent of low-wage workers in Ohio have paid family leave, compared to 15 percent of the general population. Both numbers are too low, Wolf-Knights said.
“Intergenerationally, we know that things like what the quality of your child care is as a kid, what kind of nutrition you get as a kid…what kind of education you get as a kid, all those things play a role in where you end up as an adult. And so if your parents are in poverty, and they’re not able to find an employer that treats them well, pays them good wages, we know that’s going to cause kids who grow up disadvantaged from the start to have to catch up,” Lipsitz said.
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