Ohio Labor Force At 34-Year Low
This Labor Day, there are a record low number of Ohioans in the labor force—fewer than there have been since October 1978. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports just 59 percent of Americans 16 and over have declared that they are part of the labor force; in Ohio, that figure is just under 63 percent, a 34-year low. That’s not the only thing that has the progressives at Policy Matters Ohio worried. Amy Hanauer says the group’s annual Labor Day report also shows the state lost more than 2.3 percent of its jobs since 2005, while the country added 3.8 percent in that same period.
“It is nowhere near what you should see in an economic recovery,” says Hanauer. “It is nowhere near what we’ve seen in past recoveries. And we have not caught up to where we were before the start of this recession—in fact, we haven’t even caught up to where we were before the previous recession.”
The conservative Buckeye Institute has also expressed concern that 34-year record low labor participation number. Policy analyst Greg Lawson says Ohio is 47th in the nation for private sector since the beginning of 1990, and that more people dropped out of labor force this spring than in any other period since the recession.
“We have done worse than the nation even in the good times, so even when we’re growing jobs, we’re always below the national average,” he says. “And then when times go bad, we really bottom out relative to the rest of the nation. So this is a real systemic problem that Ohio has.”
Hanauer and Lawson are also concerned about other numbers. Hanauer says there’s what she calls staggering inequality between the incomes of the top one percent of earners and everyone else, and that most jobs in Ohio don’t pay a livable wage. She says according to a Policy Matters study, eleven of the twelve most common occupations in Ohio do not pay enough to get a family of three above 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
Lawson notes that college enrollment rates are up, but are lower than the rest of the nation, and that Ohio’s disability rate is at an all-time high, above 5 percent, which means 93,000 more people are on disability in Ohio.
“Those folks are far less likely, statistically speaking, to get back into the labor force,” says Lawson.
But the two experts disagree strongly on what should be done to improve these numbers. The Buckeye Institute suggests policymakers enact what it calls free market reforms such as lower taxes. Hanauer disagrees.
“That’s the prescription that we’ve been following in Ohio, and the states that go with that approach—lower taxes, lower wages, more deference to the private sector, no regulation— what happens is that working people suffer, and then the economy as a whole suffers,” says Hanauer. Policy Matters suggests more investment in public education from Pre-K to college. Lawson disagrees with the suggestion.
“They call it investment but what it really is is just spending more money. And we’ve had a history of spending more money in this state for years. Taxing and spending all the time is not an answer because, quite frankly, the state’s been doing that all along and the proof that’s is in the pudding is that we’ve trailed the nation for years,” Lawson says.
Lawson also suggests passing so-called “right to work” legislation to curtail unionization. And Hanauer also backs more investment in transit and renewable energy, including repealing the law requiring a two-year freeze on Ohio’s clean energy standards.