For the first time since 2006, the number of Ohioans employed and their wages have increased two-straight years but the numbers of job gains still remain well below pre-Great Recession numbers and lag national growth.
Ohioans who left the labor force “in droves” from 2007 to 2009 still have not fully rejoined, according to the annual Labor Day report from Policy Matters Ohio which tracks the state’s labor market and offers an assessment of how workers in the state are faring.
“I think it’s really worrisome because when people aren’t in the labor force … it’s a real sign that there aren’t either sufficient jobs or the jobs (that exist) don’t pay enough for people to work,” said Amy Hanauer, Policy Matters Ohio executive.
The hardest hit have been men. Many people called the early 2000s recession a “mancession” because men were particularly hard hit with their unemployment rates spiking to 11.8 percent, according to Policy Matters. At the end of 2016, both men and women’s unemployment rates were low at 5.2 and 4.7 percent.
In the past year, the state has added 47,500 nonagriculture jobs and the average median wage was $17.36 an hour, an $1.29 increase from two years ago. But still, Ohio’s median wage is below the national median of $17.80.
According to Policy Matters, of the 13 most common occupations in Ohio, only two pay more than 200 percent of the official poverty line for a family of three, or about $40,000 annually. And nine of the most common jobs pay less than $30,000 a year for full-time, year-round employment.
“The brutally low wages that workers can earn in these jobs is the clearest indication that we need to raise the minimum wage in Ohio. Doing so would immediately raise the incomes of hundreds of thousands of workers trapped in these low-wage roles,” Hanauer said.
Hanauer said Ohio needs a “big infusion of job creation.”
“We’ve always been lagging the national recovery, and we’re just not a fast-growing state,” Hanauer said.
Labor force participation needs to be encouraged, Hanauer said. In Ohio, 62.2 percent is the labor force participation rate today, down from 67.8 percent in 2007 or 2008, she said.
Ohio has the infrastructure and the climate to withstand and nurture growth, she argues.
“We don’t get hurricanes, we don’t get droughts in the same way (as other parts of the country) ,” Hanauer said.
Dayton is one of many Midwestern cities that have weathered real challenges and job losses in recent years, but are “absolutely still viable,” said Torey Hollingsworth, manager of research and policy at the Greater Ohio Policy Center in Columbus.
The center’s report, “Revitalizing America’s Smaller Legacy Cities,” examines cities that finds themselves struggling with a post-industrial landscape, and Dayton is one of five Ohio cities examined.
In Dayton, leaders are taking the right steps with riverfront development, and redevelopment of age-old properties downtown, the report’s authors said. Leaders are also welcoming immigrants and making the most of relatively affordable housing
“The Arcade project is a great example of that,” Hollingsworth said.
Dayton developer Miller Valentine and Cross Street Partners of Maryland have been working to remake the downtown Dayton Arcade into a mix of apartments, offices, retail and other work spaces, fueled by Ohio historic and other tax credits.
Generally, many smaller, blue-collar cities haven’t fared as well in the past 15 years as many East Coat cities, Hollingsworth said.
“We find that Dayton, like a lot of cities in the Midwest, has seen some pretty significant challenges over that time period,” she said. “But that’s really in line with what happened with a lot of other cities in the state of Ohio as well.”