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Ohio Minimum Wage Workers Cheated into Poverty, Report Says

A new report shows 5.5 percent of workers in Ohio reported minimum-wage violations. (Grant Baldwin/Flickr)
A new report shows 5.5 percent of workers in Ohio reported minimum-wage violations. (Grant Baldwin/Flickr)
May 18, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio – More than 14 percent of Ohioans live in poverty – a situation that new research suggests could be avoided for some if they weren't being cheated out of pay.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) examined reports of minimum-wage theft in the 10 most populous states, including Ohio.

Among the states, the report found each year that 2.4 million workers are being paid less than minimum wage, amounting to more than $8 billion in lost wages annually.

Report co-author David Cooper, a senior economic analyst with EPI, says nearly 1 in 5 of these workers live in poverty.

"If every worker who reported being paid less than the minimum wage simply got brought up, 160,000 fewer workers would be in poverty,” he states. “That's not going to be a silver bullet that changes the whole poverty landscape, but that does mean a lot more folks who are able to afford their basic needs without having to turn to basic assistance programs."

In Ohio, 5.5 percent of workers reported minimum-wage violations totaling $600 million a year, which ranks the state second behind Florida among the 10 states surveyed.

Cooper notes wage theft has a disproportionate impact on already vulnerable populations.

"It tends to be younger workers,” he points out. “It's majority women. People of color tend to be more likely to be victims of wage theft, and also immigrant workers.

“Workers who were not born in the U.S. tend to experience higher rates of wage theft than U.S.-born workers."

Cooper says research shows tougher wage-theft violation penalties would be beneficial.

"When you really make it more than a slap on the wrist, that has a deterrent effect,” he stresses. “The other piece of it is enforcement.

“Not only do you have to have strong penalties but you also have to have people out there policing business activity, and unfortunately, in a lot of states, there just isn't a lot of resources that are dedicated to policing wage theft."

The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division investigates minimum-wage violations. But Cooper notes the agency is stretched thin, with nearly the same number of investigators it had almost seven decades ago.

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH