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Economy and Business

Record low number of Ohioans in the labor force
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports just 59% of Americans 16 and over have declared that they are part of the labor force – in Ohio, that figure is just under 63%.

Karen Kasler

This Labor Day, there are a record low number of Ohioans in the labor force – fewer than there have been since October 1978. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler talked to two economic experts who see that number – and others – in very different ways.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports just 59% of Americans 16 and over have declared that they are part of the labor force – in Ohio, that figure is just under 63%. That’s 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% of its jobs since 2005, while the country added 3.8% in that same period.

“It is nowhere near what you should see in an economic recovery. 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.”

 On the other side of the political aisle, the conservative Buckeye Institute has also noted 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. 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 1% and everyone else, and that most jobs in Ohio don’t pay a livable wage.

“Eleven of the 12 most common occupations in Ohio do not pay enough to get a family of three above 150% 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%, 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.”

But Hanauer and Lawson 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.”

Policy Matters suggests more investment in public education from pre-k to college. Lawson disagrees.

“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 also suggests passing so-called “right to work” legislation. 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.

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