The poorest city in the country is less than an hour from Kent.
Cleveland, with almost a third of households below the poverty line, leads the nation in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It has an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent many of its residents are the working poor.
The current minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. A full-time, minimum wage worker brings home just $10,712 annually — almost $3,000 less than the federal poverty rate for a family of two.
If passed, Issue 2, the Ohio Fair Minimum Wage initiative, would raise the minimum wage to $6.85. The proposed constitutional amendment also would raise the rate annually to keep pace with inflation and increase the hourly wage of tipped employees from $2.13 to $3.43.
Keary McCarthy, spokesman for the AFL-CIO, which supports the amendment, said it would positively affect the quality of life of 300,000 minimum wage workers.
“When someone works full time, but still lives below the poverty line, that person has to rely on public assistance, on social services, all things that compound the problem,” McCarthy said.
In all, the proposed amendment will affect about 14 percent of the Ohio workforce, including many paid slightly above the current minimum wage, he said.
Living expenses such as the cost of groceries and gas have increased, but the minimum wage has stayed the same.
“A person who makes minimum wage can buy less and less,” he said. “Basically, they get a pay cut every year that the cost of living goes up.”
Small businesses making $250,000 or less and employees under the age of 16 are exempt from the minimum wage requirement, which McCarthy said could encourage small business growth.
“The amendment is intended to be fair to both employees and businesses,” he said.
Economics professor Eric Johnson said any raise in the minimum wage is bad for businesses not exempt from the amendment.
In order to compensate for higher payroll costs, businesses must increase prices or cut jobs, he said. Increased unemployment is the “hidden negative” of raising the minimum wage.
Still, Johnson said the minimum wage is so low the state can afford to raise it with minimal consequences to the labor market.
Opponents are also concerned about other requirements, including additional record-keeping for employers. John McGough, spokesman for Ohioans to Protect Personal Privacy, said 70 percent of the bill relates to record-keeping.
“This gives an employee who thinks he’s been underpaid by his employer the ability to ask his boss to see his time sheet to verify,” McCarthy said. “It alleviates unnecessary litigation.”
McCarthy agreed that Issue 2 is a starting point to help the lowest income workers stay in line with rising costs and better support themselves.
“Paying someone who wants to work a little more so they can survive is a good thing that will benefit not only the worker, but all of Ohio,” he said.
Contact public affairs reporter Breanne George at [email protected]