COLUMBUS, Ohio — This Labor Day, Ohio researchers aren't mincing words about the status of labor in Ohio - workers are struggling.
The annual State of Working Ohio report by Policy Matters Ohio typically examines key economic indicators from the year prior.
But given COVID-19's impact on the economy, researcher Michael Shields said new figures have been included for 2020 to offer a clearer picture of the current crisis.
"We're grappling with the worst recession of our time, alongside the worst pandemic in a century," said Shields. "Ohioans have turned to credit cards, tapped savings and sold assets to pay their bills. The governor sent 600 National Guard members to help Ohio food banks distribute food."
During the state's stay-at-home order in April, Ohio unemployment spiked to 17.3%. It fell to about 9% in July — but as the report pointed out, that is still more than double the rate before the pandemic.
The research also noted that wage disparities continue: Black workers earn about 76 cents on the dollar compared to white workers, and women's wages still trail men's by $2.91 cents at the median.
Shields said before the pandemic, Ohio workers were producing record levels of wealth, but not all workers' wages were growing at the same level.
"Several decades ago, we started to see a separation between the wealth workers created and what they took home in their paychecks," said Shields. "The wealthiest started to capture the growth — and too many elected leaders helped them to do it. So when this crisis hit, many of us lacked the strong footing that we needed to be able to withstand it."
Shields contended public resources should be directed to support everyday Ohioans, and policymakers need to leverage their power to restore balance to the labor market.
"Ohio's economy is only as strong as the people who live here," said Shields. "To get through this crisis and ensure that everyone can thrive, we need policymakers who put people first."
The report called for a federal COVID relief package that restores the federal $600 weekly supplement to state unemployment benefits, and that better supports the childcare and healthcare industries.
The longer-term recommendations include a $15 hourly minimum wage, and policies that protect against wage theft and support workers' ability to unionize.