Ohio’s poverty rate improving; wages still depressed

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Talk to a Republican about jobs and the economy in Ohio and it won’t take long for them to remind you of the thousands of jobs that have been created in recent years.

It’s one of their favorite go-to topics and for good reasons: Ohio’s recent monthly unemployment rate of 4.5% was one of the lowest in the last decade, and overall job growth of 2.1% was better than the national rate in 2018. Those are bonafide feather-in-your-cap statistics. 

However, the inescapable reality is that all those jobs just mean more Ohioans are toiling away, but for what? Despite two-thirds increase in productivity, workers’ pay here in Ohio has only gone up by 3.8% (after adjusting for inflation) since 1979. 

In Ohio today, workers in bottom 10th percentile of earners are making 7-cents per hour less now than they did 40 years ago.  

Did you know that right now six of the top 10 most common occupations in Ohio have a median wage low enough that a family of three would qualify for food assistance even though they are working full-time, according to a report released by the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies (OACAA)? 

Those occupations are the people that help us when we go to the store (retail salesperson), make sure the product we want is on the shelves (stock clerk), and ring up our purchases (cashier). And when we stop to grab lunch after our shopping trip, they are the ones that take our orders (server) and prepare our food (food prepper); and they are the people that clean up after us (janitor). 

Some of the biggest hurdles people living in or near poverty face are often tied to one of three issues: transportation, affordable housing and income opportunities. According to the OACAA, when those three things don’t line up people in poverty suffer. 

The OACAA say these are long-term problems that require long-term solutions, and they look to leaders at the Statehouse for those solutions. 

However, what they see is the state “considering a multi-million-dollar bailout of a mismanaged energy company, in House Bill 6; while the General Assembly also considers if the poor should have to work for their food stamps,” according to Phillip Cole, the executive director of the OACAA.  

Cole says the poor are unfairly treated by those with a classist attitude.  

“There’s often a tendency in this society to punish the poor for receiving public assistance when we don’t hold anyone to the same level of accountability for the assistance they receive,” said Cole. “We give public assistance to all members of this society; it’s not just food stamps, Medicaid, or publicly funded childcare; it’s called different things for different economic classes; it can be tax cuts, it can be abatements.”  

Still, Cole said we are seeing an upward trend for those living in poverty.  

“Things are getting better here, I see that by driving around the state and talking with people and talking about the mood people are in,” said Cole. “I think next time when we’re back [at the Statehouse] we’re gonna be reporting on some much better stuff.” 

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