Cleveland -- In the most recent Republican debate, even Donald Trump bought Governor John Kasich's spin that the Ohio economy is "doing well." As an Ohioan I'll just say: If you believe that, Mr. Trump, I have a bankrupt casino to sell you.
Let's get one thing straight. Ohio's economy is not doing well -- not in job growth, not in wages, and not in the number of people who struggle to make ends meet.
Ohio's job growth rate over the past year was half that of the nation. Over a longer period, it's even worse. Whether you measure from the beginning of the recession, its end, the start of the governor's tenure, or a year ago, Ohio is adding fewer jobs as a share of population than the United States. Governor Kasich claimed in the debate that Ohio is "one of the fastest growing states in the country." But our job growth is in the bottom 15.
Ohio needs 18,700 jobs just to get back to where we were when the recession hit in late 2007. Keep in mind America has added four million jobs during that time. Consequently, many Ohioans have given up: our labor force has plunged by 278,000 since then. A smaller share of Ohioans was in the labor force last year than at any time since 1979.
The governor bragged in the debate that Ohio has created 347,000 jobs. While roughly accurate since the June 2009 end of the recession, this number is not brag-worthy. It's a lower rate than the nation over that period, and it is just over half the rate at which Ohio added jobs in the late 1990s, when we regularly created nearly 100,000 jobs a year.
In the debate, the governor twice said, "our wages are growing faster than the national average." But our wages are not growing at all. Ohio's 2014 median wage was $16.05 an hour, lower than in 28 of the last 36 years when adjusted for inflation, lower than the previous year, much lower than the nation's, and lower than the year before Governor Kasich took office.
Things are particularly grim for African-American workers, whose unemployment rate is three times that of white workers. Black Ohioans earned $12.81 an hour at the median last year, 75 percent of what white workers earned. This is a steep and depressing plunge from those 20th century days when the wage gap was less than ten percent. Hardly evidence that, "my state is doing great across the board," as Kasich claimed in the debate.
To be clear, I don't blame Governor Kasich for Ohio's miserable economy. Many problems, while worse here, are also bad at the federal level. Many are too long-term for one governor to fix. And a few things (our cost of living, unemployment rate, insurance levels, and our nonetheless appalling levels of inequality) are a bit better here.
Further, Governor Kasich deserves credit for some smart moves: taking federal dollars to expand Medicaid, establishing a state Earned Income Tax Credit, trying to get other members of his party to create a reasonable tax on oil and gas drilling. I cheered at his debate promises to keep Medicare and Medicaid, create jobs, and not deport 10 million parents of American children. He's generally more experienced, rational, and aware of the importance of government than his primary opponents.
But Governor Kasich has mostly pursued policies that increase inequality and hurt working families. His tax policies give the wealthiest 1 percent of Ohioans a cut exceeding $17,000 each year while forcing those who earn less than $20,000 a year to pay more. Like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Governor Kasich eliminated collective bargaining for public sector workers, which would have hastened wage decline had Ohio voters not overwhelmingly voted to restore those rights. And he has cut more than $2 billion from communities, forcing local governments to slash children's services, fire protection, pothole repair, and other essentials.
Instead of cutting, Ohio should build a strong economy by investing in education from pre-K through college, expanding union rights, and raising job quality. If we restored and expanded public services, Ohio might not rank near the bottom in childcare slots crucial to working parents, funding for transit, or how many of our babies die before their first birthday.
Too many people in Ohio are struggling. My governor and I can differ on the best approaches to revitalize our flagging economy. But I'm less gullible than Donald Trump. At least I know Ohio's economy needs help.