Employers steal from 213,000 working Ohioans a year through minimum wage violations alone
Posted May 18, 2022 in Press Releases
New analysis from Policy Matters Ohio shows that each year, employers steal from about 213,000 Ohioans by paying them below the minimum wage: A victim who stays on the job the full year loses an average of $2,900, or a quarter of their total wages, adding up to hundreds of millions of dollars a year for all workers.
Report author and Policy Matters Researcher Michael Shields joined Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) for a press conference urging Congress to pass the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act. The act will increase penalties for employers that steal from their workers.
“It’s simple: If you put in the work, you should get paid for it. Companies should not be able to cheat workers out of the wages they earned and get away with it,” Brown said. “Our bill will give workers the power to fight back and recover their lost paychecks, and it will mean real consequences for employers that steal the wages Ohioans work so hard for.”
Employers in all industries commit wage theft against all kinds of people, but about half of Ohio’s minimum wage theft cases happen in the leisure and hospitality industry, the report shows. In Ohio, Hispanic or Latinx people are 71% more likely than white non-Hispanic counterparts to have their wages stolen and people born outside the U.S. are 26% more likely to have wages stolen than people who are born in the country. Women make up three in five of the wage theft victims. Employers steal from Black and white workers at about the same rates, but because Black victims tend to put in more hours than white victims, they tend to lose more money overall.
“Employers steal from workers because they can,” said Shields. “Few employers ever face consequences. Among the few ever caught, most only pay back some share of the wages they owed workers to begin with. Wage theft is theft. It’s time those who commit it face real consequences.”
In addition to the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act, Shields also identified key policies that will protect working people. For example, Ohioans represented by unions are about half as likely to have employers steal from them than those who aren’t, so it’s critical that policymakers protect and expand workers’ right to organize. Targeted, proactive enforcement, rather than the complaint-based model most state wage and hour bureaus rely on, also helps reduce wage theft.
“Right now, in Ohio, there are six wage and hour investigators for the state’s entire workforce of nearly 5.8 million,” Shields said. “That’s like having one police officer for the entire city of Columbus. Wage theft is theft and policymakers should treat it as such. In addition to champions at the federal level like Sen. Brown, we need state lawmakers to dedicate more resources to protecting working people. And in the absence of state action, cities can leverage funding from the American Rescue Plan to follow the leads of Columbus and Cincinnati officials who took wage theft enforcement into their own hands with local ordinances.”