At Least We Aren’t Kansas….

States are often referred to as “laboratories of democracy,” a phrase coined by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Although we might debate the utility of a federalist system in our shrinking, ever-more-connected world, it is certainly the case that different states pursue different policies and that the experience of, say, State A may have useful lessons for State B.

It is also the case that Governors tend to portray their own states in rosy terms.  In Indiana, the last couple of administrations have certainly “accentuated the positive” and “eliminated the negative.” Scholars and policymakers seeking to evaluate the claims must go beyond the hype and ask inconvenient questions. (It’s wonderful that you brought the XYZ company to Indiana, but doesn’t it pay minimum wage and hire only part-time workers to avoid offering benefits?)

 Which brings me to a recent report issued by Indiana’s Institute for Working Families. (Full disclosure: I am on the Institute’s Advisory Board.)

The Institute’s focus is self-sufficiency for Hoosier families, and it conducts research and advocates policies that are calculated to achieve that goal. Every two years, it issues a report measuring the economic health of Hoosier families. This year’s report (available on its website) does not support the rosy claims made by the Administration, to put it mildly.

Despite an improving unemployment rate, the number of impoverished and low-income Hoosiers is still on the rise, median household income is
still declining and income inequality in Indiana is growing… Hoosier families have steadily lost ground, too often at clips greater than the nation and even our neighbors. The data make it clear that Hoosier families are not the fiscal envy of the nation.

The report is lengthy, thanks to copious documentation, but highlights from an accompanying Infographic tell the story: 1,015,127 Hoosiers are below the poverty level—a record high. Another 1,260, 419 live on the edge of poverty. That brings the total number of low-income Hoosiers to 2,275,546.  Indiana is home to approximately 6, 500,000 people, so slightly over a third of all Hoosier citizens are struggling.

 Since 2007, the number of low-income Hoosiers has increased 20.7%. Indiana’s number of middle and high income residents has fallen by 8.7%.

Median household income in Indiana in 2013 was $47,529—down sharply from 2000, when it was $55, 182.

Indiana’s performance cannot simply be shrugged off as a consequence of the recession. Certainly, the recession was a factor, but between 2007 and 2013, while the country as a whole experienced a 20% increase in the poverty rate, Indiana’s increase was 29.3%.

What accounts for Indiana’s dismal income figures? The Institute’s research suggests a couple of culprits. First of all, there is what the Institute calls “the jobs swap”—during the recession and its aftermath, the state steadily lost jobs in mid-and high-wage industries, while the jobs we added were low wage positions. The numbers tell that story: Indiana added 14,726 low-wage jobs between 2007 and 2013; we lost 35,814 mid-wage jobs and 23,369 high-wage jobs.

And then there was government.

 What was Indiana government doing to address the erosion of Hoosier wage levels? It was cutting public employment, trimming the social safety net–and bragging about how “right to work” and a low minimum wage had made Indiana “competitive.”

 If we are a “laboratory of democracy,” our lab experiment failed.

 On the other hand, I suppose we should be glad we aren’t Kansas…


  1. Erika Smith covered this issue in her Star column quite well a few days ago. Long-story-short; Indiana concentrates statistics on QUANTITY not QUALITY. The number of jobs Pence so proudly reported, as you stated, are mostly minimum wage and/or part-time…IF they can be had. Those billions in state surplus is meaningless if voters would only look beyond the bottom line figure and see the reality of conditions in this state, Pence guards them as if they are his personal income. Food prices alone are budget-breakers and families must cut back on quality and amounts of those purchases. The loss of food stamps to those most in need, further cuts into healthy meals for the majority of families. I suppose being glad we aren’t Kansas will have to satisfy us till we can get Democrats and Independent voters to the polls to change this stagnant status quo. It always gets back to money and voting, doesn’t it.

  2. Another State vs State experiment: Wis vs MN. While WI went down the hard right anti worker path, MN went the other way. MN is now thriving while WI is not. Two very similar states. Two very different paths. One worked, the other did not.

  3. Part of the caterwaul of White Wing Whining that accompanies American politics these days is that the poor are not poor enough. Look at them. Some have big screen TVs. Very few are starving, in fact many are obese. Why they even have time to steal to feed their drug habits.

    The cause of the public disgrace of inadequate poverty of course are liberals. Closet Communists who steal from the rich and give to the unappreciative quasi poor. Probably Sheila is one of them and this Indiana’s Institute for Working Families just justifies her Robin Goodish predilection. If she was a good Capitalust she’d realize that those people on the way to their private jet can’t possible afford increased labor costs of their McDonalds franchises which creates all of that obesity.

    Remember the American Dream? Not the porn of economic aristocracy but the real vision of a country where the streets are paved not with gold but opportunity. Now that Rush Limbaugh et al have stomped it to death is this the end of that rainbow?

    Perhaps we just need to modernize the dream. Include a provision for an ongoing home for all of the life that we know of in the whole Universe. A sustainable and attainable home until Planet B is in reach. A home that accommodates all life not just capitalust life.

    What will it look like? Green for sure. That’s a necessity if it is to be on going. Fewer humans. It’s resources, all of which are limited by the current supply chain, managed for the greater good. Recognition that we are all equally entitled to the opportunity for contribution with comfort defined as life empowered not buried under ponderous possessions that define our social rank. One neighborhood, consistant with our tiny now obviously fragile planet that we’ve fully colonized.

    We can wait for earth’s plunderers to die off for we know they will. We can pry from their cold dead hands their instruments of slavery. We can replace their present power with democracy reimagined. We can boot out their nightmare of control and colonialism and boot up collaboration and coexistence. We can.

    The only issue yet to be worked out is the transition. Traumatic or through gentle pressure relentlessly applied. Is there enough time left for that? There certainly was but we’ve wasted a lot of it. And we still are.

  4. Relentlessly applied. Beautifully stated, Pete. Are we ready to take the first step: controlled population?

  5. Kansas is my home, with my daughter at school there. I watch what is happening there and am horrified at what has happened. Indiana be warned this is where we are headed only at a slower rate. Giving everything away to the rich and saying no one is hungry until they have the bloated bellies of starvation is not how to run a state.

  6. Patty; this is how the GOP wants to run this entire country…and they have a good start. Remember this on every future election day and vote to end it.

  7. Earl: there are many ways to control population. War, disease, starvation, natural disasters, etc. Apocalypse now.

    Other ways that experience has shown to be successful are centered around eliminating the poverty that is otherwise managed by having big broods to make sure that enough are around to carry mom and dad when old age arrives.

    Of course keeping religion out of the sex business is also a step in the right direction.

    It boils down to we do it or Mother Nature will. But, it will be done.

  8. Pete; you are behind the times. These days the old folks are having grown children move back home because they can’t make it on their own and many are raising their grandchildren…no matter what size brood they had.

  9. Pete, you mention Apocolypse Now. When Sheila posted the article about Pence’s recent trip to Israel and who helped fund it, I looked up that organization. Their goal is to get all the Jews to Israel so the apocalypse can take place. Pence is rooting for the apocalypse to finish us off, and it won’t hurt to finish off a good many of us ahead of that time.

  10. I’m thinking that sex is here to stay so population control is a choice between apocalypse and birth control.

    Capitalism lives on growth. Growth comes from either more people or new compelling products that workers get paid to make then buy.

    Growth also requires more raw materials and energy both of which having a future requires our cutting back on the consumption of.

    The math is pretty simple while the path to this future considering this math has lots of forks.

    So far, we’re stuck at the first fork.

  11. We have been taught that Capitalism depends on growth. Just as we have been taught that Socialism has been a dismal failure. Actually, we know much, much better but we refuse to believe our lying eyes. Socialism has never been allowed. ” Those soulless Reds!” We have historically switched the debate from government to religion. ‘That’ll always get ’em.’ And it does. In the minds of most of us, they are the same. What are the greatest killers in all of world history breathlessly awaiting: return of the Prince of Peace. Go figure.

    Capitalism worked just fine until an economic system was merged with a means of control, i.e. government. From the very beginning, capitalist turned to government in order to gain and insure advantage. Astor did and the Waltons do. Don’t think so? In 1806, the U.S. Govt charged and convicted Philadelphia Journeymen of conspiracy when they went on strike. That set the stage for the last 200 years. Try to organize a Walmart today and see who arrives to take your butt to jail.

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