A former student of mine is a researcher for Indiana’s Institute for Working Families. (I strongly encourage those of you who are interested in evidence about the status of working Hoosiers to visit and like the Institute’s Facebook page.) He was the lead researcher for the Institute’s recently released report, The Status of Working Families 2011. That report, which he shared with me, is a sobering corrective to the political hype that passes for news these days.
The punditocracy has characterized Indiana as an economic “success story,” as a state that weathered the Great Recession better than most. As the Institute’s report makes clear, that rosy evaluation ignores a number of highly inconvenient facts: the state has 231,500 fewer jobs than before the recession (Indiana is among only 17 states that have continued to experience absolute declines in the labor force since the recession began); our median wage for those with a bachelor’s degree is $0.80 lower than the national average (and a mere 14.6% of Hoosiers even have a bachelor’s degree–we rank 42d in the nation); since 2000, the state has seen a 52% increase in poverty.
These and similar statistics in the report are depressing enough, but I think the most significant analysis centers on wages. Although our political rhetoric regularly conflates job creation and wages, they are two very different indicators of economic health, and both sides of that equation are important. We need more jobs, but not just any jobs. We need jobs that pay a living wage.
So how does Indiana stack up?
- Indiana workers earn 85% of what workers in the rest of the country earn. We rank 41st in the nation.
- Since 2000, wages have decreased for workers in both the 50th and 10th percentiles (by 3.4% and 10.6% respectively). This cannot be explained by decreased productivity, because productivity increased by over 14% during that same period.
- Median household income fell by 13.6%–the second largest decrease in the nation. (Michigan was first.)
- Median family income also decreased dramatically, falling 29.6%
- Since 2000, Indiana has experienced a 52% increase in poverty.
The current administration believes that low tax rates and decimated unions will attract jobs to our state. Evidence does not support this belief. Businesses relocate to areas offering–among other things–an educated workforce and consumers with the discretionary income to buy their goods. They relocate to environments offering a high quality of life–parks, public transportation, good schools and a reasonable social safety net. These are the very things that suffer when lawmakers care only about slashing taxes and depressing wages.
There’s a reason businesses aren’t moving in droves to Mississippi.
If we continue to starve public education and local government, if we continue to pursue policies that depress wages and make it more difficult for families to escape poverty–if we continue to emulate states like Mississippi–businesses won’t move here, either.