Labor issues seem to be in the headlines less in recent weeks as jobs are added to the economy, unemployment declines and the labor force participation rate rises. It is clear that an economic recovery is well under way, but the benefits of this recovery have been unevenly distributed.
There are more than a million fewer women in the workforce than there were before the pandemic, and black women are returning to the workforce at a slower pace. Although the overall black unemployment rate is almost back to pre-pandemic levels, it is still nearly double the national average. This is despite the fact that labor demand is near an all-time high and there are now more jobs available than people in the labor force.
In light of some of these factors, it is perhaps unsurprising that general perceptions of the performance of the economy are largely negative. Economists and policymakers, however, have yet to reach a consensus on the root cause of the public’s gloomy view. At Cohear, we posed the question to our community, asking “everyday experts” – people whose lives are impacted by these issues on a daily basis – why they believe the economy is not doing well.
One person described his frustration at continually hearing that “everyone is hiring” even though several potential employers hung up on a friend when he disclosed his criminal record. Another pointed out that rising rents (up 28.4% in Cincinnati, 8% in Columbus and averaging 15% nationally) are creating instability and that wage increases are not have not reached everyone.
Danielle, a black single mother of two, pointed out that these same pay rises can be a double-edged sword for those who may become ineligible for public benefits, which are worth more than the raise itself – a phenomenon known as the name “cliff effect”. .”
“I got a raise this year to $15.93 an hour,” she said, “(and) my child care vouchers went down. My kids are still eligible for Medicaid, but not me. I don’t qualify for (housing assistance), I pay rent at market rate… So no, it’s not a booming economy for me. I’m still considered a worker poor.
Many of these issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic but are not new. The average person may think that the economy is not doing well because the normal state of the economy is not good enough for most people.
The conversation with Danielle was just one of 28 focus groups and over 30 qualitative interviews Cohear has conducted across Ohio on the topics of workforce development and the economy over the past few years. last two years. These diverse groups agreed: the economy doesn’t really thrive when their immediate communities continue to face unemployment, underemployment and resource scarcity. And it’s not just workers who are suffering – employers and the broader economy are feeling the brunt.
Officials at a local hospital said they were hiring more than 700 vacancies, and an Ohio transit authority said it hired 130 bus drivers last year — 20% of their total number of drivers – to end the year with 30 short drivers. These employers cited flexible childcare, higher starting salaries, predictable hours and social services for new entry-level employees as essential to helping them meet these dire staffing needs.
The situation is too urgent to wait for action at the federal or state level in these areas. Employers, workforce partners and local decision makers must lead the way now, investing upfront in innovative solutions such as temporary benefits for those experiencing the cliff edge, comprehensive services for employees moving out of poverty, working with local – especially black-owned – child care centers to provide free or subsidized child care to employees, and community partnerships in low-income neighborhoods to create recruitment channels for well-paid jobs.
These interventions can do more than improve the quality of life in marginalized communities: they can help meet the labor needs of this tight market, saving employers resources that would otherwise be wasted on high turnover or temporary workers. More importantly, they can help close the racial equity gap in pay, wealth, and opportunity. Read our full report, which details all of the experts’ daily recommendations for mutually beneficial solutions, here at www.wecohear.com/reports.
In a country more diverse than ever, a return to an unequal economy can hardly be called a recovery. We can and must do better.
“It’s better to be able to work and not have to go to the plasma bank after work so I can get extra gas money,” Danielle said. “I could look for a three-bedroom apartment instead of a two-bedroom. An extra five bucks an hour might be enough.”
Dani Isaacsohn is the Founder and CEO and Aimee Dirig is the Director of Research and Ideas at Cohear, a Cincinnati-based community engagement and research firm.