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Ohio: Living Wage Hard to Find
The Mansfield News Journal
Russ Zimmer

May 9, 2011
View the Original Article

Report says Ohio jobs don't pay enough to keep adults off welfare

COLUMBUS -- Eight of the 10 largest occupations in Ohio do not pay enough for an adult with a young child to live without public assistance, according to a report released Friday.

In fact, the median hourly wage in the state, $15.72, doesn't allow a single earner with a baby to live free of welfare, according to Diana Pearce, the author of the report. Pearce based her findings on the self-sufficiency standard, a metric she developed 14 years ago that calculates the costs of basic living needs and the earnings required to cover them.

The problem is with a lack of quality jobs, but Pearce added that Ohio's situation is not unlike other states. The eight top jobs -- fast-food worker is No. 1 with 151,000, and retail sales and cashiers round out the top three -- represent about 18 percent of all workers in Ohio.

Investments in higher education will eventually draw companies to Ohio, she said. But for the current ranks of underemployed, the state needs to identify shortages in post-secondary certifications -- something like a paralegal, for example -- and help those in low-skill jobs quickly obtain new, more marketable skills, she added.

Pearce and other speakers at the Statehouse news conference argued that slashing assistance to working poor -- such as the cut to child care assistance in the budget the Ohio House passed Thursday -- just exacerbates hardship in other areas.

A single mother who has to pay more for day care, or cut back on work hours to stay home, will ultimately require help paying for heat or food, they said.

The federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour for most workers, won't support all the financial needs of a responsible, thrifty single person anywhere in Ohio, Pearce said.

The self-sufficiency standard includes the cost of items, such as rent, transportation and food, tailored to where someone lives. Generally speaking, it's more expensive to live in a big city like Columbus than a small town like Lucas.

Frills like cable television, restaurant meals or take out, vacations, recreation and entertainment are not included in the equation.

"It's really a bare-bones budget," she said. "Nevertheless, it's well above the poverty line."

That was the theme of the presentation: That poverty is more pervasive than it appears, at least to those who are not struggling.

Pearce, a professor of social work at the University of Washington, argued the accepted benchmark of inflation, the consumer price index, downplays the rise in food and fuel prices because they are offset by lower prices on non-essentials, such as computers and cars.

The federal government says you're living in poverty as a single person if your income is below $10,890 annually, or $22,350 for family of four. Community action association director Philip Cole said this is misleading.

"We don't really know what the poverty rate is," he said. "The people in that 15 percent (the approximate federal poverty rate for Ohio) are in extremely dire straits."

Pearce said people rarely look at their personal situation objectively and admit the reality, perhaps because they don't fit into the textbook definition of indigent.

"Most people identify themselves as middle class," she said, "even if they're at the food bank."