Ohio’s Lost Decade

Dayton paper shines light on a devastating job and income losses.

Look what’s happened to payrolls in Montgomery County, Ohio, in the last decade:

Annual private payrolls dropped about $3 billion — from $11.4 billion in 2000 when adjusted for inflation to $8.3 billion by 2010 — according to data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. That 27 percent slide is the biggest percentage decline among Ohio’s six large metro counties, all of which lost to some degree.

It’s a damned mudslide. But the rest of the state isn’t doing much better with total payrolls down $22 billion. The number of actual companies is also falling, while the average wage, adjusting for inflation, hasn’t moved:

Meanwhile, the number of employers are declining. In Montgomery County, private sector employers — defined as any company with a payroll — shrank from 10,105 in 2000 to 8,851 in 2010. Statewide, the total slumped from 241,062 to 215,406 — a drop of 25,656 companies. In a decade, the average private sector wage in Ohio has risen from $32,245 to about $40,000, but when inflation is factored in, the increase vanishes.

The Dayton Daily News ran out a strong package a week ago Sunday that I’m just seeing now (h/t @katarron). The anecdotes are strong, but the sheer numbers—wow. Manufacturing is getting crushed, while the government-supported service sector is the only bright spot, if you want to call it that.

The largest payroll losses were in manufacturing, which plummeted 36 percent, driving other sectors lower. A standout exception is an economic sector with heavy taxpayer support: health care and social assistance, which grew by 21 percent. However, those jobs don’t pay as well. Cleveland-based economist George Zeller calculates the net statewide annual Ohio payroll loss at around 10 percent.

There’s much discussion among economists and politics of all persuasions about trade policy and China’s currency manipulations; an EPI analyst says in the story that as many as 150,000 lost jobs can be chalked up to both. But the paper itself dives into U.S. Labor Department data—applications to a government program that helps workers displaced by outsourcing—and finds (graphic) “tens of thousands of Ohio workers were displaced over the last decade because of foreign trade and outsourcing.”

Since 2002, close to 136,000 Ohio workers have applied for Trade Adjustment Assistance from the Labor Department, with 94,000 getting certified, the Daily News examination found. Dayton ranked third among cities for the most workers seeking assistance, while five of the top 15 cities came from the eight-county Dayton region.

Okay, it would have been nice to have put the TAA data online. Oh, and I wish they had used median income instead of average income. But those are quibbles.

The anecdotes really are moving. People laid off from good jobs are moving into bad ones or no jobs at all.

“It’s not a bright picture right now,” said Roger Blair who lost his manufacturing 
job, as did his wife Cheryl,
when Siemens Energy & Automation closed plants in Urbana and Bellefontaine in 2009 and exported the jobs to Mexico.

Roger is working again, but the Logan County family’s income has been cut in half and will drop further when Cheryl’s unemployment benefits run out.

“I don’t have any benefits,” said Roger of his job working as a contractor. “I don’t have insurance, no type of future benefits, either.”

A sidebar profiles a couple who both lost their jobs at manufacturing plants. He went back and got retraining in an HVAC class, but encountered a scene the Joads would have recognized.

Nine months later, he graduated at top of his class. But with the job market awash with other retained workers, salaries started at only $10 per hour.

“That was another shocker. The market was flooded,” Fraley said. “It never really panned out. I couldn’t take a $10 an hour job with the bill situation and to meet all the obligations I had.”

I feel like I read my share of business news, but not nearly enough work like this, the kind that reflects the lived experiences of people we don’t hear enough from or about. That’s what newspapers do: they connect communities. Kudos to the Daily News for showing the way.

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman. Tags: , ,