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New Report Identifies Threats To Ohio's Manufacturing Sector

Workers on the Honda assembly line in Marysville, Ohio.
Steve Brown
Honda Accords are constructed at the car maker's factory in Marysville.

The number of manufacturing jobs in Ohio has slowly ticked up in recent months, but a new report finds several trends that could undermine the future of the industry.

The report, by the left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio, looks at 27 years of data on the state's manufacturing labor force. And its main message can be summed up like this - nice work, if you can get it.

The average salary for production workers is $59,000 annually, which is higher than the average wage in many other industries, said the report's author Michael Shields.

However, for that same group, getting laid-off can often mean a permanent pay cut. To help those workers, Shields's report recommends that the state legislature restore Ohio's unemployment trust fund and invest more in retraining programs.

“When somebody is laid off from a job, that person does not wake up less skilled, less educated, or less experienced than they were the day before," he said.

Other concerning trends identified in the report, Manufacturing a High-Wage Ohio, include employers' increasing use of part-time labor (according to the Labor Department, about 24 percent of production workers in 2016 were employed through a temp agency, and earned $27,600 annually), and a persistent racial wage gap (black manufacturing workers in Ohio earn an average of $20.44 per hour, while white workers make $23.20 per hour).

Although Ohio has one of the largest manufacturing workforces in the country - about 685,000 in 2016, trailing only Texas and California - fewer young workers are moving into the sector to replace older ones. Since 1990, the typical manufacturing worker's age went from 41 to 44.

"That’s really important when we’re talking about folks who have a high school diploma and haven’t gone to college, which is still more than half the population of the state," Shields said.

The state can address these issues, he said, by supporting union organizing, as well as investing in apprenticeships and layoff prevention programs. And while these measures won’t bring manufacturing back to its peak, Shields said it would help keep more of those jobs in Ohio.

Adrian Ma is a business reporter and recovering law clerk for ideastream in Cleveland. Since making the switch from law to journalism, he's reported on how New York's helicopter tour industry is driving residents nuts, why competition is heating up among Ohio realtors, and the controlled-chaos of economist speed-dating. Previously, he was a producer at WNYC News. His work has also aired on NPR's Planet Money, and Marketplace. In 2017, the Association of Independents in Radio designated him a New Voices Scholar, an award recognizing new talent in public media. Some years ago, he worked in a ramen shop.