Land of (In)Equal Opportunity

Cincinnati CityBeat - September 12, 2012
Andy Brownfield’s piece in Cincinnati CityBeat digs into State of Working Ohio 2012, our annual review of the state’s labor market, highlighting the higher rates of unemployment and lower wages impacting women and blacks.
The report — which looks at employment, education and wage figures from the Current Population Survey — finds that all Ohioans were affected by the Great Recession of 2008-2009, but women and blacks were hit particularly hard.

The average unemployment rate for Ohio in 2011 was 8.6 percent, slightly below the national average of 8.9 percent. 

However, for blacks that number was a drastically higher 17 percent, compared to the white unemployment rate of 7.6 percent. 

The story quotes Amy Hanauer, Policy Matters executive director and report author: “I think what happens is that when unemployment gets high, people are driven out of the labor market. They feel they are no longer able to find work and they leave the labor market. And the black community has a much more volatile trend line in that regard.”

Employment has fallen for all Ohioans, but in 2011 less than half of all working-age blacks in the state had jobs (compared with the unemployment rate, which measures only people recently out of work who are actively looking). Meanwhile 59.7 percent of Ohio’s white population was employed in 2011.

Not only is Ohio’s black population having a harder time finding work, they’re being paid less.

The median black Ohio worker earned $12.95 an hour, compared to the $15.95 his or her white counterpart earned. 

That’s down drastically from 32 years ago, when black workers earned $15.11 at the median.

Brownfield checked in with James Hardiman, president of the Cleveland NAACP, who told him: “Even though some people pay lip service that we live in a post-racial society, successful in electing the first African-American president, the reality is that racism still exists.”

Hardiman says blacks have a disproportional number of single parent homes, make up a greater percentage of the prison population and that many of the state’s educational institutions are still segregated to some degree.

Ohio’s schools are ill-funded, he says, which compounds on segregation to create a black workforce that is ill-prepared to compete for jobs. Hardiman says blacks still have to deal with racism in the workplace — he says it isn’t as overt, but is just as insidious as it was 50 years ago — and they are often the last to get hired and first to get fired.

“There is no excuse in 2012 for African Americans to be earning less than their white counterparts for doing the same work, and the reality is it can only be explained by racism, be it overt or unintentional,” Hardiman says. 

The story notes that unemployment rose for both men and women in Ohio during the recession, but that women are having a harder time getting back into the workplace as the economy recovers.

Hanauer says one reason women are having a harder time finding employment is because of the large percentage of public sector jobs that were eliminated under Gov. John Kasich. She says public sector jobs, such as teachers, were often held by women. Meanwhile, manufacturing jobs — which are often held by men — are rebounding.

Brownfield also checked in with Barbara Rinto, director of the Women’s Center at the University of Cincinnati, who told him that there are a “variety of reasons women earn less, from the types of jobs they often take to just old fashioned sexism.”

Rinto says those trends aren’t exclusive to Ohio, but exist across America. Legislation that would strengthen anti-discrimination laws and prevent employers from penalizing workers who discuss wages would help close that gap.

“We really need to get underneath that. And we really need men as allies. They don’t want their daughters or wives to be paid less,” Rinto says. “This is not an issue of men versus women, but do we want people to be paid fairly.”

 Land of (In)Equal Opportunity
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