Before pandemic hit, 6 of Ohio’s 10 most common jobs paid near-poverty wages
Posted May 01, 2020 in Press Releases
Working people, experts call on lawmakers to put people first
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many Ohioans working in the state’s most common jobs were living on the brink. In 2019, six of Ohio’s 10 most common jobs paid wages so low that a family of three would need to use food assistance to make ends meet. Together the ten most common jobs employed a fifth of all Ohio workers, about 1.18 million people, according to a new report by Policy Matters Ohio.
The data show that many Ohioans paid low wages are risking their health in “essential jobs” at grocery stories or as health aides or janitors. To comply with Gov. DeWine’s stay-at-home order, nearly 1 million Ohioans who were working this March are out of work today. Many are still waiting for the state to distribute unemployment support.
“As Gov. DeWine begins to reopen parts of the economy, our policymakers need to protect our economy by protecting the health of working people and the public,” Policy Matters Researcher Michael Shields said. “They can achieve that with smart policies that don’t force Ohioans to choose between workplace safety and paying our bills.”
Policy Matters called on policymakers to:
- Protect working people with safety protocols and gear, careful re-opening of businesses that follows health officials’ guidance, and oversight.
- Restore the minimum wage: Pass a minimum wage that covers the cost of living.
- Quickly deliver unemployment benefits to people displaced by the pandemic. Make permanent the current expanded eligibility for low-income workers and excluded ride-hail drivers.
- Ensure all working Ohioans have access to emergency paid sick leave now, and earned sick leave going forward.
Policy Matters joined with SEIU Local 1 and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative to call for Ohio’s policymakers to immediately enact policies that protect working people as Gov. DeWine allows some businesses to reopen. Dr. Ash Sehgal, professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University and Policy Matters board member, described steps businesses and policymakers need to take to safeguard the health of working Ohioans. Watch the press call here.
“The best way to protect workers is to have all workers take precautions, even if they don’t feel sick; frequently clean common surfaces; give workers access to handwashing facilities and sanitizers; and make sure all workers are wearing masks and other personal protective equipment if necessary,” he said. “I think customers should also be wearing masks. Workers and customers should stay six feet apart as much as possible. Workers should have paid sick leave so they don’t feel obligated to go back to work even if they’re sick. Workers should be provided with health insurance. And policymakers should provide income support for workers who are furloughed.”
Taneisha Head, of Cleveland, leader with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, worked as a restaurant hostess until her employer laid her off a month ago. She said she was already scraping by before COVID-19 and now is waiting for unemployment support to arrive.
“Working a job that doesn't pay enough is hard as it is,” she said. “Now with schools closed, extra meals. I'm managing child care, bills and keeping food on the table, all while trying to navigate the unemployment system, which was clearly unprepared for this. You can't get through online. You can't get through via fax. You can't get through by phone. People are struggling to survive every single day. What is the plan to support working people? This country was built on the backs of the people. How is it that this country doesn't have the people's back?”
LaTashia Thaxton, of Cincinnati, who also belongs to the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, works as a merchandising clerk supplying products to grocery stores. She worries that increased activity will mean increased exposure for her and others while they work.
“Grocery stores have limited capacity right now,” she said. “Opening things up will triple our exposure. How will the state get us more PPE? How will it hold companies accountable? Once the economy is re-opened, I'll be exposed to 3,000 to 5,000 people a week, and then go home to my daughter.”
Yanela Sims, Ohio Director and Vice President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, said her union is calling on employers to do the right thing, but many businesses won’t protect employees unless policymakers require them to.
“It's ironic that a few months ago, janitors were treated like they didn't matter, but now they are essential to protecting public health,” she said. “Because people are working from home, janitors are less exposed. Once the state opens, that protection will go away. They should get hazard pay, because they are essential. It's our governor's responsibility to ensure the safety of all Ohioans: workers, customers, tenants. It will only work if safety measures are enforced. That requires leadership. Without enforcement, we put our essential workers at risk and the general public. You can't say someone is essential if you don't treat them that way.”
The report also contains fact sheets for Ohio's largest 11 metro areas: Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Lima, Mansfield, Springfield, Toledo and Youngstown.