To receive updates and stay connected to Policy Matters Ohio, sign up here!

Research & Policy
Policy Matters Ohio

Working for less: Too many jobs still pay too little, 2019

May 01, 2019

Working for less: Too many jobs still pay too little, 2019

May 01, 2019

Every Ohioan who works full-time should be able to support themselves and their family without worrying about being able to afford the basics. Last year, six of Ohio’s 10 most common jobs paid so little that a typical full-time worker would earn less than $26,000 and need food assistance to feed a family of three – leaving many of the state’s working people in largely the same position as they were in 2017, although some occupations and regions saw some modest improvements. Many of the most common jobs pay less than they did in 2000, when wages did more to lift working people out of poverty. In 2000, only four of the most common Ohio occupations would put a typical worker in this situation.

Working for less: Too many jobs still pay too little, 2019

Statewide labor market data paints only a partial picture of what’s really happening in Ohio communities. The unemployment rate for 2018 was 4.8%. Ohio has recovered all the jobs lost in the 2007 recession, but not yet enough to make up for population growth since then. The Ohio economy has slowly improved over the course of the recovery but the top-line statistics ignore regional and racial disparities and underlying weakness in the state’s recovery. Despite assertions otherwise, tax cuts for the wealthy have not produced miraculous recovery.

Ohio’s low unemployment rate masks a troubling contraction of the state’s workforce. Since 2007, 185,000 people have left stopped working and stopped looking for jobs and are no longer counted in the unemployment rate. The statewide data also hides deep regional disparities and wage stagnation. Most of Ohio’s regional economies have not recaptured all the jobs lost during the recession. Youngstown, despite some improvement in earnings, is in the worst shape measured by job growth, needing more than 19,000 jobs just to return to the 2007 levels. Akron is approaching the pre-recession threshold, lacking only 600 jobs. Columbus (+138,700 jobs since 2007) and Cincinnati (+64,600 jobs), regional drivers of the Ohio recovery, have not seen large earning gains in their most common occupations. Both saw modest earnings increases over 2018, but not enough to eliminate the need for assistance. Canton added 1,500 jobs since 2007 as growth in customer service jobs, which have typical earnings just above the 130% federal poverty threshold, became more common than lower earning janitorial work.

Job growth alone will not fix poverty or eliminate the need for assistance. Both the nation and state have productive economies with abundant wealth. Too many of Ohio’s leaders lack the political will to pass policies that will improve job quality, make education and training affordable and fund basic services like transit and childcare that help people work.

On May 1, 1884, the Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions, a forerunner of the AFL, declared a legal work day to be eight hours. Two years later, on May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers walked off their jobs to demand just that: eight hours for labor, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what we will. But today many Ohioans are patching together multiple jobs just to get by. Salaried workers typically fare better. However, some salaried workers could earn less than $24,000 and not qualify for overtime no matter how many hours they are required to work.

The minimum wage peaked in 1968. Since then, inflation has eroded its value. Ohio voters increased the state minimum wage in 2006 and indexed it to inflation, but the wage had already fallen so low that restoring all the losses seemed politically out of reach. Today the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and Ohio’s minimum is set at $8.55. Big business with its allies in elected office are rolling back the economic security won by generations of collective bargaining. Too many jobs pay too little and fail to offer a real path to economic security. Many policy protections for working people have been dismantled, while the already wealthy and corporations enjoy record gains.

Policy Matters has released a 10-point policy plan to build an economy that works for all. Those points include several practical recommendations that are being implemented around the country. These are:

  • Protect working people’s right to organize by opposing so-called “right to work” laws and support labor neutrality agreements.

  • Strengthen the public sector: Roll back the massive state tax cuts that benefit the wealthy. Instead, invest in training, education, child care and public transit.

  • Empower local governments to pass their own laws to protect working people in their communities.

  • Fix Ohio’s broken unemployment compensation system: Our system can cover more low-wage workers and be solvent, if employers pay their fair share.

  • Protect workers on the job with strong workers’ compensation benefits.

  • Restore the minimum wage: Increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2023 would give 2 million Ohio workers a much deserved and overdue raise.

  • Restore the 40-hour work week: Improvements to scheduling and overtime can bring back stability. Restored overtime protections would cover 351,000 Ohio workers.

  • Paid leave should be the norm, not the exception. Twenty-five years after the federal Family Medical Leave Act, only 13 percent of private sector workers have any paid family leave. There is no federal law requiring paid sick leave. Ohio could enact legislation to provide workers with the opportunity to earn leave.

  • Enforce rules that protect workers from wage theft: Shorting workers on wages is theft and should be enforced as such. Basic pay check transparency is s step in the right direction.

  • Work requirements don’t work: Bad jobs keep people in need. Policies to improve job quality and training can help families prosper. Work requirements in public benefit programs like food assistance and Medicaid keep people poor and sick.

New data on job quality throughout Ohio illustrates that we are not doing enough to ensure quality jobs in our state. Public policy creates the economy. In the 20th Century, American lawmakers embraced polices that helped ensure growing wages, good benefits and adequate overtime – at least for white workers. Restoring those protections -- and making sure they extend to every Ohioan -- and exploring new solutions can ensure that today’s workers can thrive in a complicated economy.

Ohio Employment Survey Fact Sheets

Akron Metro Area

Canton Metro Area

Cincinnati Metro Area

Cleveland Metro Area

Columbus Metro Area

Dayton Metro Area

Lima Metro Area

Mansfield Metro Area

Springfield Metro Area

Toledo Metro Area

Youngstown Metro Area

Statewide Employment Data

Where in the world? A short guide to Ohio Metro Areas (MSAs)

The employment factsheets rely on data from the U.S. Department of Labor. The data are reported by the Department of Labor at the national, state, and Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). In order to better understand Ohio’s regional economy, we built the factsheets using the available MSAs. The U.S. Office of Budget and Management sets the MSA boundaries every ten years. Some of Ohio’s MSAs have changed since 2000. We note those changes fully here.

2018 Ohio MSA Definitions

(* = change from 2000 MSA definition)

Akron: Portage, Summit

Canton-Massillon: Carroll, Stark

OH: Brown, Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, Warren
KY: Boone, Bracken, Campbell, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, Pendleton
IN: Dearborn, Ohio County, *Union (added), (*Franklin County, removed)

Cleveland-Elyria: Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina

Columbus: Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin, *Hocking, Licking, Madison, Morrow, *Perry, Pickaway, Union

Dayton: Greene, Miami, Montgomery, (*Preble County, removed)

Lima: Allen

Mansfield: Richland

Springfield: Clark

Toledo: Fulton, Lucas, Wood (*Ottawa, removed)

OH: Mahoning, Trumbull
PA: Mercer

From the Department of Labor and Ohio LMI.


2019Hannah HalbertWork & Wages

Share This


Photo Gallery

1 of 22

To receive updates and stay connected to Policy Matters Ohio, sign up here!


No Thanks, Please don't ask again.