The Cincinnati region’s most common jobs often pay below the poverty line

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Editor's Note: This story first published on April 2, 2019.

Six of the 10 most common jobs in the Greater Cincinnati area don’t pay enough to support a family of three without food assistance, an issue area leaders say can create a cycle of poverty.

More than 228,000 people in the Cincinnati area are employed in the 10 most common jobs, according to a recent study from Policy Matters Ohio.

Of the 10 most common jobs, all but one pay a typical worker less than $35,000 for full-time, year-round work, and half pay less than $25,000, according to the study.


Some of the most common jobs are in the sectors of food preparation and and serving workers, including fast food; retail salespersons; laborers and freight, stock and material movers; registered nurses; customer service representatives; cashiers; waiters and waitresses; office clerks; stock clerks and order fillers; and janitors and cleaners.

“The typical age of a low-wage worker in Ohio, we found that it was a 34-year-old … These are people trying to really live their lives and trying to support families. These are not just young students or the teenager working a summer job,” said Hannah Halbert, the Policy Matters analyst who compiled the research.

Ohio’s recovery from the recession has been slow in general, and the biggest gains have been very regional. Central Ohio and the Cincinnati areas are doing better than Dayton and rural areas of the state.

Columbus and Cincinnati have both recovered jobs since the recession and added new positions, 138,700 for Columbus and 64,600 for Cincinnati. Dayton was still about 3,000 jobs below pre-recession employment in 2018, Halbert said.

With unemployment hitting new lows across the country and in Ohio, many expect wages to rise and fit supply and demand, said Michael Lipsitz, a professor of economics at Miami University. While there has been some modest wage growth, workers haven’t gained that much bargaining power despite the fewer people available to fill positions.

“Employers right now know that they can attract employees with low wages,” he said. “People became so disgruntled over the course of the recession, they got used to lower wages and now their reference point is a little bit lower than it might otherwise have been and employers are taking advantage of that.”

In today’s purchasing power, Ohio’s minimum wage in 1968 was about $12, Halbert said. Today it’s $8.55.

Childcare is one of the biggest issues when it comes to low wages for single breadwinner families, Lipsitz said. It’s not only costly, but it can prevent some single parents from any sort of labor mobility.

“The way that people are able to increase their wages get out of that cycle of poverty is by finding new jobs that pay them more, and maybe they don’t even take that job. Maybe they use that job to convince their employer to pay them more. But that’s really difficult to do when you have to go pick up your kids from grandma’s house right after work,” he said.

Other times employers only give schedules 48 hours in advance, but job interviews need to be scheduled before that and workers risk losing their current job in hopes of new one.

Workers in low-wage jobs also risk losing their jobs when children or other family members become ill and they need time off. About 4 percent of low-wage workers in Ohio have paid family leave, compared to 15 percent of the general population.

“Intergenerationally, we know that things like what the quality of your child care is as a kid, what kind of nutrition you get as a kid … what kind of education you get as a kid, all those things play a role in where you end up as an adult. And so if your parents are in poverty, and they’re not able to find an employer that treats them well, pays them good wages, we know that’s going to cause kids who grow up disadvantaged from the start to have to catch up,” Lipsitz said.

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