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Report: Some of Pandemic's Essential Workers Not Paid Living Wage

Fast-food workers are considered essential during Ohio's stay-at-home order, yet earn a near-poverty wage. (AdobeStock)
Fast-food workers are considered essential during Ohio's stay-at-home order, yet earn a near-poverty wage. (AdobeStock)
May 1, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The COVID-19 pandemic has undermined the livelihoods of many Ohioans. However new data reveals a significant number of Ohio workers were already were scrapping to get by.

A new report shows that six of Ohio's 10 most common jobs in 2019 paid near-poverty wages. Researcher Michael Shields with Policy Matters Ohio explains these occupations include fast-food employees, home health-care aides and stockers who are risking their own health working on the front lines during the new coronavirus outbreak.

"Without their work, we wouldn't be able to shelter at home in the midst of a crisis," says Shields. "But many of these workers don't have either a living wage or the safety protocols that they need."

Ohio starts the first phase of reopening today and Shields contends policymakers must protect the economy by protecting workers. The report recommends measures to ensure workers have access to safety protocols and gear, shore up unemployment compensation, provide emergency paid sick leave and increase the minimum wage.

Ohio's current minimum wage is $8.70, however the report shows that in 1968 the federal minimum wage was worth over $12 per hour in today's dollars. Shields says too many Ohioans were left out of the recovery of the last recession.

"45% of the income growth went to the top 1%," says Shields. "That's through year 2018. That's giving people no cushion for the income shock that so many of us are facing right now. So we need to make sure that this recovery reaches everyone. That needs to include a living minimum wage for Ohio."

Shields contends that as policymakers take steps to address the COVID-19 crisis, they also must ensure all workers are protected as the state gets back to work.

"This is a moment that will help us to recognize the value in workers who are doing jobs that really are vital to us all," says Shields. "They are helping to sustain us through this crisis. But at the same time, these are workers who have not always been recognized as vital, so I hope that is what will change going forth."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly one million Ohioans who were working in March are currently out of work today.

This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH