Yesterday, IO Policy Director Terra Goodnight spoke to a legislative committee considering changes to Ohio’s unemployment insurance system. On behalf of the Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network, Terra spoke about ways the state program disadvantages women who lose their jobs. Her testimony is below.
Terra Goodnight, Policy Director, Innovation Ohio
Testimony to the Unemployment Compensation Reform Joint Committee
November 3, 2016
Good afternoon Chairman Peterson and members of the Committee. My name is Terra Goodnight, and I am the Policy Director at Innovation Ohio, a policy and advocacy non-profit in Columbus. I am here today to speak on behalf of the Ohio Women’s Public Policy Network – a statewide coalition of organizations that advocate for policies that benefit women. Attached to my testimony is a copy of a letter signed by many of those partner organizations.
I am here today because women have been mostly overlooked in the conversation about reforming Ohio’s Unemployment Compensation system. The program has real problems that go beyond the size of the trust fund, and those shortcomings disproportionately impact women.
Ohio’s unemployment compensation eligibility rules are out of step with our state’s changing workforce. Because these rules favor higher-wage and full-time work, women—who are more likely to work for low-pay or part-time—are less likely to receive benefits than their male counterparts. One recent analysis showed that, over the past decade, women made up over 43 percent of Ohio’s unemployed, but just 36 percent of those receiving unemployment compensation. There are a number of reasons for this gender gap.
First, in order to collect benefits, Ohio requires laid-off workers to have earned a minimum average weekly wage of $243 that would be hard to achieve in many low-paying jobs. Under current rules, a minimum wage worker whose hours fluctuate between 25 and 30 hours a week is ineligible for benefits after becoming unemployed because they fail to take home the required weekly wage. In fact, in accommodations and food services, an industry where 57 percent of the workers are women, the typical worker in 34 Ohio counties earns too little to be eligible for unemployment. Women are far more likely than men to work for low pay. Women in Ohio take home, on average, $478 per week – this drops to $410 if they are African American – compared to $710 for men.
Even if a part-time worker earns enough to qualify for benefits, if they seek anything less than a full-time job—even one with the exact same schedule as the job they lost—they remain ineligible under another of Ohio’s outdated rules. In Ohio, 43 percent of women work part-time, compared to just 29 percent of men. For many women, including myself, a non-traditional work week is the only way to balance work with the scheduling demands of a family, especially for the one in four Ohio families with children headed by a woman on her own.
We should not preserve a system that discourages non-traditional, pro-family work schedules or that protects only those in high-paying jobs from falling into poverty. Ohio should expand its eligibility calculations to ensure even the lowest-paid workers are eligible for benefits when they lose their job. And Ohio should join the 30 states that currently allow unemployed workers to seek part-time positions and still receive unemployment benefits.
 West, Rachel, Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Kali Grant, Melissa Boteach, Claire McKenna, and Judy Conti. Where States Are and Where They Should Be on Unemployment Protections. Center for American Progress, National Employment Law Center and Center on Poverty and Inequality, Georgetown Law. July 7, 2016. http://www.nelp.org/content/uploads/Issue-Brief-State-Unemployment-Protections.pdf
 U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey, 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table S2403 “Industry By Sex For the Civilian Employed Population 16 Years and Over.” November 1, 2016.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, “Geographic Cross-Sections: All Counties in a State, One Industry: NAICS 72: Accommodation and Food Services.” November 1, 2016.
 U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey, 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table B20017 “Median Earnings In The Past 12 Months (In 2015 Inflation-Adjusted Dollars) By Sex By Work Experience In The Past 12 Months For The Population 16 Years And Over With Earnings In The Past 12 Months” October 1, 2016.
 U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey, 2015 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table B20017B “Median Earnings In The Past 12 Months (In 2015 Inflation-Adjusted Dollars) By Sex By Work Experience In The Past 12 Months For The Population 16 Years And Over With Earnings In The Past 12 Months (Black or African American Alone)” October 31, 2016.