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Ohio women and blacks face higher rates of unemployment and lower wages post-recession

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report released shortly before Americans took the day off work for Labor Day, a national holiday meant to celebrate workers, painted a dismal picture of employment and wage disparities in the state of Ohio.

The “State of Working Ohio 2012” report by left-leaning policy research group Policy Matters Ohio showed that unemployment among blacks is far outpacing that among whites, while women and minorities are earning less per hour than their white counterparts.

“Job growth is grim, median wages are falling, disparities endure, inequality is sky-high, unemployment remains troubling and the share of the unemployed who’ve been jobless for at least half a year is at record levels,” the report’s opening sentence reads.

“We find that Ohio workers have little to celebrate this Labor Day, and some indicators are the worst they’ve been in decades or ever.”

The report — which looks at employment, education and wage figures from the Current Population Survey — finds that all Ohioans were affected by the Great Recession of 2008-2009, but women and blacks were hit particularly hard.

The average unemployment rate for Ohio in 2011 was 8.6 percent, slightly below the national average of 8.9 percent. 

However, for blacks that number was a drastically higher 17 percent, compared to the white unemployment rate of 7.6 percent. 

“I think what happens is that when unemployment gets high, people are driven out of the labor market. They feel they are no longer able to find work and they leave the labor market,” says the report’s author, Amy Hanauer. “And the black community has a much more volatile trend line in that regard.”

Employment has fallen for all Ohioans, but in 2011 less than half of all working-age blacks in the state had jobs (compared with the unemployment rate, which measures only people recently out of work who are actively looking). Meanwhile 59.7 percent of Ohio’s white population was employed in 2011.

Not only is Ohio’s black population having a harder time finding work, they’re being paid less.

The median black Ohio worker earned $12.95 an hour, compared to the $15.95 his or her white counterpart earned. That’s down drastically from 32 years ago, when black workers earned $15.11 at the median.

“Even though some people pay lip service that we live in a post-racial society, successful in electing the first African-American president, the reality is that racism still exists,’ says James Hardiman, president of the Cleveland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Hardiman says blacks have a disproportional number of single parent homes, make up a greater percentage of the prison population and that many of the state’s educational institutions are still segregated to some degree.

Ohio’s schools are ill-funded, he says, which compounds on segregation to create a black workforce that is ill-prepared to compete for jobs. Hardiman says blacks still have to deal with racism in the workplace — he says it isn’t as overt, but is just as insidious as it was 50 years ago — and they are often the last to get hired and first to get fired.

“There is no excuse in 2012 for African Americans to be earning less than their white counterparts for doing the same work, and the reality is it can only be explained by racism, be it overt or unintentional,” Hardiman says. 

Meanwhile, unemployment among both men and women in Ohio rose during the recession. In 2011 the unemployment rate among Ohio’s men was 9.4 percent, while that level was 7.9 percent for women. 

As the state’s economy recovers, however, women are having a harder time getting back into the workplace.

Historically, a smaller percentage of Ohio’s women have found employment in the state, though the percentage of Ohio’s women finding employment has risen steadily since the 1970s.

Employment among both Ohio’s men and women fell sharply during the recession, but for men it has been slowly ticking up during the recovery.

That’s not so for women, who have seen their representation in the workforce slowly declining.

Labor statistics show 54 percent of Ohio’s women are now employed (compared to 63.4 percent of the male population) and that number continues to decline.

Meanwhile, women continue to earn significantly less than men at the median in Ohio. 

Women at the median earned $13.92 an hour in 2011, about $3 less than men, who had a median hourly wage of $17.08.

Hanauer says one reason women are having a harder time finding employment is because of the large percentage of public sector jobs that were eliminated under Gov. John Kasich. She says public sector jobs, such as teachers, were often held by women. Meanwhile, manufacturing jobs — which are often held by men — are rebounding.

Barbara Rinto, director of the Women’s Center at the University of Cincinnati, says there are a variety of reasons women earn less, from the types of jobs they often take to just old fashioned sexism.

“There are a lot of men … who don’t want to take jobs that are not ‘masculine’ enough in their mind, whatever that means,” Rinto says. “This is part of how jobs become stereotyped as male or female. Historically the jobs that are stereotyped as female pay less.”

Rinto says those trends aren’t exclusive to Ohio, but exist across America. Legislation that would strengthen anti-discrimination laws and prevent employers from penalizing workers who discuss wages would help close that gap.

“We really need to get underneath that. And we really need men as allies. They don’t want their daughters or wives to be paid less,” Rinto says. “This is not an issue of men versus women, but do we want people to be paid fairly.” 

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