Labor Day in Ohio: Lots to cheer, more to fear

The Toledo Blade - September 2, 2012

“ON THIS Labor Day weekend, workers in Toledo and the rest of Ohio have much to celebrate — but even more to lose sleep over,” writes David Kushma, editorial writer at The Toledo Blade in  a piece that draws heavily on our State of Working Ohio 2012. He writes:

It’s encouraging that Ohio’s unemployment rate has dropped below the national rate. But just getting back to where we were before the recession hit, much less when the state and nation last prospered, will take years. Other elements of the local and state jobs picture are even more alarming.

He cites good news from our report: “Ohio is adding manufacturing jobs at twice the rate of job growth in other parts of the state’s economy.” He continues:

Ohio jobs making durable goods, notably autos and auto parts, have grown more than three times faster than all jobs in the state, according to the Policy Matters report. One out of every eight jobs in Ohio is tied to the auto industry, and we’re the leading producer of parts. You wonder where our state would be if Mr. Obama had not shepherded the federal bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors, which Mr. Romney continues to oppose.

Now the bad news: Participation by men in Ohio’s labor force has reached its lowest point ever, Policy Matters says. The share of jobless Ohioans who have been out of work for more than six months is at an all-time high. The ratio of employment to population among black Ohioans is the lowest since 1983.

Ohio’s median wage — half of workers earn more, half less — has dropped more since 2000 than in any state other than Michigan. That wage is now below the national average. The gap between earnings of white and black workers in our state is wider now than it was in 1979; that disparity persists even when education levels are equal.

The welcome job growth in Ohio’s private sector has been offset by layoffs in the public sector: teachers, police officers, firefighters, social workers. That’s the flip side of the crowing Mr. Kasich and the Republican-controlled General Assembly do about balancing the current state budget — largely by slashing billions in aid to local school districts and communities, while cutting taxes for some of Ohio’s wealthiest residents.

Kushma interviewed Amy Hanauer, Policy Matters’ executive director and author of the report, and noted that today’s workers across the state are better educated and more productive than their parents, and put in longer hours, but often have less job opportunity and security.

“We’re not keeping pace the way we should,” Ms. Hanauer told me. “It’s great for Ohio that unemployment has come down, but a scary thing is how many people have left the labor market, especially African-Americans.

“We need to bring people back to contribute to the economy, and to benefit from it,” she says. “The people of Ohio care about jobs and job quality.”

“The Policy Matters report offers sensible recommendations to begin to reverse the trends it identifies,” Kushma writes: “Restore essential public services, and the jobs of the people who provide them. Promote basic and higher education with tangible investment, not rhetoric. Such things should come before more unbalanced tax cuts, at the federal or state level.”

Make manufacturing in this country a priority for public support. President Obama’s stimulus package, including the auto bailout, has started to do that. But Ohio needs to do a better job of training workers for advanced and high-tech jobs, if the manufacturers who create such jobs are to locate and expand here.

Stop portraying financial, workplace, and environmental regulators, as well as union-represented workers, as public enemies. Last year’s vote to repeal Senate Bill 5 made clear the value Ohioans place on workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. Ohioans also have shown we appreciate the kind of appropriate, not overbearing, government regulation that promotes equal opportunity and broadly shared benefits of economic growth — things that safeguard prosperity instead of subverting it.

He contrasts the agendas coming from Democrats and Republicans in the election campaign and notes that workers cannot afford to sit out the November vote. But, he says, “Ohioans need more than talk. They need cooperation between the public and private sectors to achieve a balanced, equitable, diversified state economy composed of well-educated, well-paid workers.”

How to get there is a question to which Ohio workers should demand an answer from the presidential nominees, and all other candidates for public office this year. And based on what you hear or don’t hear in response, vote accordingly.

Labor Day in Ohio: Lots to cheer, more to fear 

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