Labor Day is an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of Ohio’s workers. This year, as the economy continues to reopen and COVID19 infections spike across the country, Labor Day feels like a particularly important opportunity to recognize and honor the sacrifices of essential workers.

Over the past eighteen months, essential workers in the areas of health and childcare, transportation, utilities, and food, have experienced greater personal risk to themselves and their families by simply doing their job. Findings from a recent Essential in Ohio Report indicate: three in ten employed Ohioans work in an essential job. At great personal risk to themselves and their families, these workers have continued to stock our grocery shelves, care for our sick, and kept our planes, trains, and cabs running on schedule.

And yet, despite this spotlight on the everyday heroism of these essential workers, the pandemic has shown the disparities in how we value those who maintain the services we take for granted. 

Essential workers in Ohio are paid 12.9% less at the median than people in non-essential jobs, even while facing a higher rate of exposure to the COVID virus to themselves and their families. While men and women are equally likely to work essential jobs, women work more of the lowest paid and highest exposure jobs. When compounded with the responsibilities of remote learning and taking care of their own households, the effect is exponential. Ohioans of color are more likely to work in essential jobs that place them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace.

But it does not have to be this way. Increasingly, communities are recognizing the need to prioritize equity in recovery efforts and are pairing those policy efforts with innovative approaches to improve the quality of jobs for essential workers and accessibility into existing high quality employment opportunities. 

While the definition of a quality job can vary from person to person, it’s commonly understood that characteristics of job quality include fair pay, benefits and paid time-off, consistent scheduling, and safe working conditions.

In Licking County, a collaborative of workforce, economic development, and education partners have come together to develop career pathways for regional industries with high quality job opportunities.  The purpose of these pathways and the accompanying toolkits is to provide jobseekers and students with the information and agency to select high quality employment opportunities that otherwise may have felt unknown or out of reach.

Meanwhile, the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition is partnering with area employers, education providers, and community-based organizations across the region to provide paid technical training and career supports at no-cost to participants through the WorkAdvance. The program provides a career coaching workshop, paid technical training along with ongoing support essential for a successful transition into a skilled manufacturing or healthcare position.

So this Labor Day, let us celebrate Ohio’s hard working men and women by advancing recovery strategies that center working people, prioritize equity, and honor the simple fact that Ohio’s essential workers are truly essential.


About the Author 

Grace Heffernan 

Senior Project Manager