IDEAS: State and federal leaders need to ‘unrig the economy to put people, not corporations first’

Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: This guest opinion column by Hannah Halbert, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, is set to appear in the Wednesday, Sept. 23 edition of the Dayton Daily News' Ideas and Voices page.

Dayton’s working people have been doing their part during the pandemic – from the ICU nurse at Kettering Medical Center to the University of Dayton janitor ― taking extra care to keep buildings safe and clean for the students.

Hannah Halbert is executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, an nonprofit, nonpartisan statewide research institute.
Hannah Halbert is executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, an nonprofit, nonpartisan statewide research institute.

Every Labor Day, Policy Matters Ohio releases the State of Working Ohio report, which looks at how working people fared over the previous year. Working Ohioans' wages have been held down, their union rights attacked and the public supports that make their communities strong have been weakened by tax cuts and tax breaks that direct public resources to the wealthy few and corporations.

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The pandemic and recession have been difficult for almost everyone, but workers of color have been hit harder.

The COVID-19 pandemic and violence against Black people are laying bare the consequences racist policies. Between 1979 and 2019, Black workers' wages were pushed down $1.71 per hour, in 2019 dollars. Black Ohioans are more likely to hold jobs that expose them to COVID-19; and more likely to have been laid off due to the pandemic – overrepresented in unemployment filings by a factor of 1.6.

The recession has been difficult for women, too. Like workers of color, they are overrepresented in the leisure and hospitality industry which lost 30% of its jobs – 170,800 – since June 2019.

Dayton waitresses and waiters made just $9.81 an hour last year – below poverty for a family of three. Many women privileged to work from home are juggling work, child care and virtual in-home schooling, disrupting their long-term career paths.

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The situation demands immediate action from our elected leaders. Congress must restore the $600-per-week federal payment to unemployed Ohioans. President Trump’s temporary $300 assistance falls short, will take weeks to set up, and relies on disaster relief funds that will quickly dry up. The federal government should also support the child care industry. Advocates say at least $50 billion is needed.

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Those moves will help Ohioans get through the crisis, but ultimately, state and federal leaders will have to unrig the economy to put people, not corporations first.

That means fixing the state’s unemployment system to cover workers making very low wages, raising the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, and rebalancing the tax code so it leverages our public resources to benefit everyone, not just the wealthy few. With commitment from our leaders, Ohioans can attain the recovery and future we deserve.

Hannah Halbert is executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, an nonprofit, nonpartisan statewide research institute.

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