CLEVELAND — Delores Gray is a Cleveland grandmother who has felt the employment impact of the ongoing pandemic firsthand.
Gray said she hand to quit her jobs with the MetroHealth Medical center because her family needed her for childcare due to pandemic related job loss and employment changes. Gray is now taking care of her two grandsons.
Gray said she's not surprised by the findings of a 48-page report issued on Labor Day by Policy Matters Ohio researcher Michael Shields, which indicates pandemic related employment issues have disproportionately impacted women, people of color, and frontline workers here in Ohio.
“This problem is very real, and it’s going on all across the nation, not just Ohio," Gray said. “It’s very serious where women are losing their jobs cause they can not work due to this pandemic."
“I know for myself, it was really hard because I had to stay home with the boys. Very sad to think about, and to actually be living it. And just imagine a lot of the women who have two or three children and they’re living in a household without any income, it’s very, very tough.”
Shields told News 5 his report, which fielded data from the state and the latest federal census, indicated women especially lost ground in the wage gap and employment status during the pandemic.
“We still have about 265,000 fewer jobs in Ohio than we had just before COVID-19," Shields said. “A lot more Ohioans of color have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19, and also have worked in front line jobs that have put them at higher risk.”
“A lot of women have either lost jobs or have had to leave jobs to step back and take on more care giving responsibilities.for their kids and loved ones.”
The report, titled "The State of Working Ohio 2021: Meeting the Moment," reached the following conclusions:
- COVID-19 disproportionately forced low-paid Ohioans out of their jobs – skewing the wage data which shows a higher median wage last year. For example, there were nearly 25% fewer waitresses and waiters in Ohio than there were in 2019. The leisure and hospitality industry accounted for 28% of all the state’s jobs destroyed during COVID.
- People who hold “essential jobs” are at higher risk for COVID exposure; are more likely to be Black or brown, and are also paid nearly 13% less than those with nonessential jobs.
- COVID-19 exacerbated long-standing structural barriers that hold down wages for Black, brown and immigrant workers and exclude them from job opportunities. Last year, white Ohioans were paid $21 an hour at the median compared to $16 for Black Ohioans. At 15%, the unemployment rate for Black Ohioans was more than double the rate for white Ohioans, 6.8%.
- Ohio women were more likely than men to be laid off or forced to leave their jobs, reversing years of progress. Their employment-to-population rate fell from 55.6% in 2019 to 52.7% in 2020. Women were paid $18 an hour compared to $21.50 for men
Shields made a number of policy recommendations to help Ohio continue its pandemic recovery, especially for women and minorities.
"Lawmakers must protect working people’s right to join a union - and can start by passing the federal Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act," Shields said. "State and local policymakers can use American Rescue Plan dollars to center working people with hazard pay for essential workers; enforcing wage and hour laws; and ensuring the entire community benefits from public projects, not just the corporations that win the contracts."
"Federal policymakers should continue and make permanent stimulus programs that provided Americans with more financial stability like the expanded Child Tax Credit and pandemic unemployment assistance"
Shields also recommended Ohio increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour, including tipped workers by 2026, something Gray agrees should be done to help lower income families maintain housing and other basic needs.
“It’s so crucial, because families are becoming homeless too because of this situation, and are being evicted from their homes because of the situation," Gray said. “$15 an hour is the most important thing to families, where they can be able to pay bills and pay rent and mortgages and be able to stay afloat.”