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10.31.14 NPR Interview

Measuring Ohio’s Economic Changes Under Gov. John Kasich

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 6:37 PM

When making his case for reelection, Kasich will point to the big headline numbers in Ohio’s jobs story, as he did in an interview with Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler.

“We’re up a quarter of a million, and we were down 350,000,” Kasich said. “But it’s never enough. Because a job is about dignity, it’s the dignity of work. It’s about helping families and helping particularly our children. So we’re just going to keep plugging at it.”

Those numbers are true for private sector jobs during Kasich’s term in office. Ohio’s jobs numbers bottomed out in 2010, before Kasich took office, and began to rise before he defeated incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland that year.

Since Kasich took office, that trend has continued.

Ned Hill is the dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.

“Manufacturing clearly led the recovery, and it was the auto industry coming back online, and rapidly followed by shipments in the aircraft supply chain,” Hill said. “It really was our traditional base came on back. Steel started doing very well. And then the recovery stalled.”

Manufacturing jobs haven’t reached pre-recession levels yet, but they’re growing. Local governments, though, have been shedding jobs for years, and only recently posted gains.

And retail hasn’t grown as significantly, leaving people like Danielle Williams in a bit of a squeeze. She was applying for a job at grocery chain Aldi last month.

“Went to temp agencies and did a little work, and they called me when they had something,” Williams said. “I just found out about Walmart and Target, so I’m on my way to do those…I’ve been trying to put in apps everywhere.”

Williams has a high school diploma and is trained in home healthcare – a growing, but low-paying field. Even if she worked for Aldi, she says, she wants to find a second job because she’s got a son to take care of.

“I want to put some money off to the side,” she said. “I want to pay for him to college, life insurance – the things that really, really matter.”

According to a spokeswoman for Aldi, nearly 1,000 people showed up to apply for just 90 jobs.

Fields that have fully recovered their losses include business service jobs like consultants and other professions that help companies do their work.

Linda Gutekunst runs a small business that helps companies find IT workers.

“Last two years…were our highest years ever,” Gutekunst said. “Definitely companies were doing more upgrades, needed more people to assist with projects, were hiring more. This year has been a little kind of stabilized…I’m seeing a little more caution again.”

Last year, Ohio charted its first post-recession gains in median household income. Still, that increase is small compared with what the state lost.

Gov. Kasich says wages are also looking up in Ohio.

“Wages of Ohioans are growing faster than the national average,” Kasich said in a recent interview. “General Electric bringing back-office operations to Cincinnati. Very high paying jobs. Amazon making a major investment in central Ohio.”

Overall, wages have grown faster than nationwide. But the actual dollars and cents Ohioans earn each week are below the national average. And in 2013, state earnings flattened out, and even fell somewhat, according to inflation-adjusted data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

Researcher George Zeller says recent trends in wages, along with slowing job growth, show Ohio’s not back to where it was before the recession.

“We are gaining, but that growth is way too slow,” Zeller said. “And so you still have enormous levels of human suffering. All over the state, we have workers who can’t find a job through no fault of their own.”

Ned Hill with CSU says it’s tough to pin much thanks or blame in the short term on a state governor.

“The month-to-month, year-to-year swings in employment, state government can’t affect that at all,” Hill said. “Instead, it really is laying down the fundamentals for long-term economic development.”

Meaning the real effect of Kasich’s policies may not be felt until years from now.

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