Public policy put me here
Hello Ohio. If you’ve followed Policy Matters for a while, you may know me as the policy liaison, the work and wages researcher, or project director. This week, I took on a new job. I am the new executive director of Policy Matters Ohio. I’m excited to take on this new opportunity, and if honest, a little in awe of the very big shoes I’m stepping up to fill.
I put together my first resume when I was 16 years old. I had no idea what I was doing. I suspect I got the idea from watching TV. I walked my resume into every law office in my hometown and asked for work until someone hired me to run errands. My stepdad mined coal for Martin County Coal. My mom was a carhop, sold shoes, and wrote obituaries for the local paper until she became a wife. Neither had the opportunity to go to college. I didn’t know what a think-tank was until I was in college.
In so many ways, I’m not supposed to be here taking the helm at one of the nation’s best policy shops. I am a testimony to the life-changing importance of the work Policy Matters Ohio does every day.
Social Security dependent benefits gave my mom and me tremendous security after losing my dad in a workplace shooting. My public-school teachers helped me see beyond my holler. Even though my stepdad never carried a union card, the United Mine Workers raised standards across the coalfields, so my stepdad’s employer had to pay him a good wage and keep the workplace safe enough for him to make it home at the end of the day. I want every child, regardless of where they are born or the color of their skin, to build the life of their dreams. This cannot happen without organizations like Policy Matters Ohio.
Our founder, Amy Hanauer, started Policy Matters 20 years ago believing simply that the economy should work for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected. Over that time, we have worked with partners, allies, and everyday Ohioans to do big things for people. We provided research that helped reinstate collective bargaining rights of 350,000 public sector workers. We made the case for putting more money in the pockets of hard-working families with state earned income tax credit. Our work showed the benefits of extending health insurance to 366,000 working Ohioans through Medicaid expansion. And we provided the data that helped raise the minimum wage in 2006. Amy created an organization that puts research, people, and policy first. This is the legacy I will build on as executive director.
There is work to be done. Some greedy corporations and the politicians they support are trying to dismantle policies that protect working families and ensure all communities have the resources they need. Even after the post-Great Recession economic expansion – the longest in history – more Ohioans live in poverty than before the crash. A minimum wage worker today is paid significantly less than a minimum wage worker of their grandparents' generation. Colorblind policy solutions placed on top of centuries of structural racism means Black Ohioans still earn less than their white counterparts, and are more likely to have serious health problems.
There’s much that could lead us to despair, but the good news is we - together as Ohioans - can demand better and get it! We are a resilient state full of fighters. Ohioans are organizing to raise the minimum wage, expand voting rights, and protect our public revenue system. We're joining unions, demanding an end to workplace discrimination of all kinds, and building the kind of community we all deserve.
Policy does matter. Together, we can build a more vibrant, equitable, sustainable, and inclusive Ohio. A place where kids, whether they live in Linden, Lorain, or Lucasville can build the life of their dreams. I’m thrilled and grateful to have this opportunity to live mine, and eager to partner with the Policy Matters staff and their union to make sure others do too.
I can’t wait to see what we create next.
- Hannah Halbert