Tag Archives: Indiana

Indiana’s Children

Sunday sermon.

According to the Indianapolis Star, the improving state economy touted by Gov. Mike Pence at campaign stops “has yet to trickle down to the 345,000 Hoosier children, or more than 1 in 5, living in poverty.”

In a recent editorial, the Anderson Herald Bulletin urged lawmakers to deal with the reality of Indiana’s working poor.

The Herald Bulletin has reported extensively this year on a group labeled Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) in a study released in 2014 by the Indiana Association of United Ways.

About 23 percent of Indiana’s population and about 28 percent of people living in Madison County belong to the ALICE group. While they earn too much income to qualify for most forms of welfare, they earn too little to afford necessities, pay monthly bills and save enough money to handle unexpected expenses such as illnesses and car repairs. Hoosiers who belong to this group find themselves in a spiral of debt toward poverty.

Many belonging to the ALICE group have children and find that paying for child care while they work is often a money-losing proposition. In Indiana, the Child Care Development Fund provides subsidies to help financially insecure families pay for child care.

It’s a great program, but it has a major flaw. A slight rise in income level can cause a family to lose eligibility, providing a disincentive to work hard and earn a raise. If CCDF subsidies were set up on a sliding scale, hard work would be rewarded.

Tweaking the CCDF program with a sliding scale is something we should do. And we should provide adequate resources for the Department of Children’s Services. But important as individual programs may be,  the inconvenient truth is that the welfare of Hoosier children is inextricably connected to the welfare of the families that are raising them.

When wage levels are too low to allow those families to provide decent housing, adequate nutrition and reliable child-care, children suffer. Recent research also suggests that the higher stress levels common to low-wage households take a particular toll on the children in those families, who arrive at school unready to learn,  and who have poorer health prospects and lower life expectancies.

A policy agenda focused upon keeping Indiana a low-wage state not only fails to create the promised jobs–it hurts children.

Politicians uniformly insist that they care about children, but aside from efforts to ensure that every conception ends in the birth of a child, I haven’t seen much evidence for that concern.

 

Indiana’s Economy–the Spin and the Reality

Indiana Governor Mike Pence has just bragged about the state’s surplus. We are supposed to consider the existence of that pot of money–that “rainy day” fund–as evidence of fiscal responsibility.

Not so much.

Assume I have a mortgage on my house, and I’m intent on building a savings account from which I can make future payments. Prudent fiscal management. Unless, of course, I have refused to repair the hole in the roof, because I’m saving the money for future house payments.

One of the biggest holes in the Hoosier roof is FSSA, which is being sued by caseworkers over huge caseloads that keep them from adequately protecting children. FSSA “reverted” 37 million dollars from its budget, so that the Governor could brag about his surplus. And it wasn’t just FSSA; here is a list of other “reversions” required by the Administration.

It’s amazing how much money you can save if you don’t deliver services.

And what about all those other “indicators” the Governor touts?

In the wake of the RFRA debacle and the subsequent hiring and firing of a PR firm that was supposed to repair the damage, there has been more interest than usual in what the numbers really say about Indiana’s economy.

Recently, the Indiana Democrat’s blog addressed what it called the Governor’s “Fuzzy Math.” It would be easy to dismiss its conclusions as partisan spin, and probably in anticipation of such dismissal, the posted article cited its source for each number.

The data is in table format, with the Governor’s statements on one side and the actual numbers on the other. There are several sections, but I was particularly struck by the response to Governor Pence’s assertions that Indiana is enjoying “historic” employment levels and that the Hoosier economy is “growing stronger every day.”

The blog shared the following data, from which we can all draw our own conclusions:

  • Since spring 2000, 500,000 more people have moved to Indiana while the employment participation rate has seen one of the largest declines in the nation.

[Indianapolis Star, 5.28.15]

  • New Indiana manufacturing jobs pay wages that are far lower than the national average – and are considered “lower-valued” in the manufacturing industry.

[Indianapolis Star, 6.10.15]

  • Indiana ranks 38th in the nation in per capita income.

[Indianapolis Star, 6.1.15]

  • Hoosiers make 86 cents to every one American dollar.

[Indianapolis Star, 6.1.15]

There are lots of ways to “slice and dice” economic data. It’s a question of focus–are we just trying to create an environment where business can keep costs down? Then the Governor is right:  Right to Work, a low minimum wage, and low business taxes are the way to go. (Although the numbers suggest those tactics aren’t producing many jobs.)

Do we want a state where workers can count on a living wage, a state where all workers, whatever their gender and/or ethnicity, are paid equally for equal work, a state where tax revenues are sufficient to provide a decent quality of life? If those are our goals, the numbers tell the story; we aren’t doing very well.

Do we want an Administration that provides essential public services in a businesslike fashion, or one presided over by a Governor who is focused upon image while ignoring the hole in the roof?

In case you hadn’t noticed, Mike, it’s raining.

Mike, Mike, Mike…

I am all for transparency in government–but that’s not the same thing as transparent bull—-.

In yesterday morning’s Star, we learned that the state had “abruptly” terminated its costly contract with a national PR firm–a contract necessitated by the disastrous publicity generated by Indiana’s passage of RFRA.

Thursday afternoon, Chris Cotterill, executive vice president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., cited strong employment numbers, national recognition for the state’s business-friendly climate and cost management efforts in the decision to cancel the contract with Porter Novelli.

Gov. Mike Pence said through a spokeswoman he supports the decision.

“Given the record-setting pace of job creation by businesses across Indiana, Governor Pence supports the decision by the IEDC to conclude the contract with Porter Novelli and continue current efforts to promote the advantages of doing business and creating jobs in our state,” said press secretary Kara Brooks.

And I have some swampland in Florida to sell you.

That “national recognition” of Indiana’s “business friendly” climate evidently is a citation to one of those notoriously unreliable magazine lists (the ten best places to retire! the 25 best cities for people with allergies!). And Indiana’s method of calculating its job-creation numbers has been the subject of criticism for years.

It’s fairly obvious why the Governor terminated the contract: he’s running for re-election, and the fact of that contract, its cost, and the administrative decisions that necessitated it have been subject to significant ongoing criticism. So…Voila! Suddenly, Indiana’s RFRA troubles are all behind us.

But they aren’t.

In San Francisco last week, tourist areas were dotted with Air BnB advertising signs saying “Dear Guests from Indiana, Just know you are always welcome here. (We’ll even share our pizza).” Teeshirts at New York pride celebrations proclaimed “Too gay for Indiana.” And sober Hoosier business executives share the conviction that the damage done by RFRA remains deep–that (as Arizona learned a few years ago) the attendant publicity conveyed an unfortunate message about the state’s civic climate that remains a substantial drag on tourism, business relocation decisions and convention business–a message that will not soon be eradicated.

If the Governor really wanted to improve the state’s image without spending money on a PR campaign, it would be simple enough to do: he could take a high-profile position in favor of amending Indiana’s civil rights laws to include protection from discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity.

If anyone thinks our culture-warrior Governor is likely to do that, I still have that swampland in Florida….

Being Poor Isn’t Probable Cause

The Indiana ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a disabled, indigent Posey County woman who was denied financial assistance because her disabilities prevented her from taking a drug test required by the Black Township Trustee.

A number of courts around the country have held that conditioning benefits on passage of a drug test violates the United States Constitution. (Before these programs were struck down, the states that imposed such tests also found far fewer abusers than would be expected in the general population. That makes sense, since people having trouble affording food are unlikely to have money for drugs. But hey–we all know that poverty is evidence of moral turpitude…)

The lawsuit against Black Township and Lindsay Suits, the Black Township Trustee, was filed on behalf of Mary Neale, a resident of the township. Neale previously received aid from the trustee only after submitting a urine sample and passing a drug test. Last year, however, Neale’s physical disabilities made submitting the sample impossible, so she was unable to apply for benefits.

The ACLU’s lawsuit points out that the Township Trustee’s “policy of requiring applicants for assistance to take a urine drug screen violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Further, the trustee’s failure to accommodate Neale’s disability when she sought to apply for assistance violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

“The Constitution prohibits this type of suspicionless search and seizure,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “It is wrong to condition the receipt of government benefits on the waiver of fundamental rights that protect all of us.”

The Fourth Amendment requires government actors to have probable cause to conduct a search. Probable cause has been defined as “articulable reasons to believe that a given individual has violated the law.”

Someone needs to explain to the growing ranks of eager-beaver “public servants” that neither poverty nor skin color are probable cause.

What We Do and What We Say

My friend Morton Marcus has a good column in the recent issue of NUVO.

He reflects upon the most recent legislative session, and on Indiana politics generally, and in a make-believe conversation with one “Victor Van Nutt,” he makes a point my father used to emphasize: if you want to know what people really believe, what they really value, you’ll look at what they do–not at what they say.

“If we wanted local control of schools, we never would have allowed the state to take over financing education. If we wanted strong communities, we would not have voted for property tax controls starting with Otis Bowen and ended up supporting a constitutional amendment capping those taxes.

“On the other hand,” he continued, “if we wanted economy in government, we would have eliminated township governments, merged adjacent cities and towns, and merged under-populated counties.

“Then,” he went on, “if we truly believed in the virtues of small business, we wouldn’t yield our tax policies to the imagined desires of out-of-state corporations, hoping they will bring any kind of jobs to Indiana.

“We would stop shifting taxes to households and away from the big corporations. Remember, many small businesses are basically households not paying corporate taxes. We would not be anti-union since small businesses are not likely to be unionized.”

Until and unless Hoosiers start following what our government is actually doing–until we stop taking political figures at their word, and ignoring what they actually do once in office–nothing will change.

And of course, that advice also applies to us. If we just criticize those in power, content to complain about the “World’s Worst Legislature” while finding excuses not to vote–if we bitch and moan at cocktail parties while doing nothing to help change the system that keeps returning these same people to office–well, that says something about We the People and what we really value.