Quality Of Life

The unrepresentative Representatives who infest Indiana’s legislature have gone home, leaving  citizens to consider the multiple harms done during the concluded session. One harm that was mostly overlooked was their refusal to invest in Indiana’s state parks.

As the Capital Chronicle has reported,

Indiana Senate Republicans’ disregard for our parks and for the benefits they bring to Hoosiers’ quality of life was on full display recently when they zeroed out Gov. Eric Holcomb’s requested investment of $25 million for the President Benjamin Harrison Land Trust.

The Trust is the mechanism through which the state purchases land for conservation and parks. As the Chronicle editorialized,

Our Indiana parks and natural spaces are a treasure. They bring more than a connection to nature. They bring jobs, economic growth, and a quality of life that attracts and retains talent…. A 2016 study commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Wellness Council of Indiana stated, “infrastructure related to traditional wellness activities (such as trails, playgrounds, parks, and open green space) matter more than ever in where people and subsequent businesses relocate.” 

Parks are highly prized and extensively utilized–a quality of life asset–and as Michael Hicks recently documented, economic growth is tightly tied to quality of life indicators. It’s one reason some places grow while others shrink.

First, most migration is concentrated among younger people with high human capital. Yes, retirees move, as do folks in mid-life, but most don’t. One result of the age concentration of migrants is that this movement of people also drives natural population change of births minus deaths. So, places with net in-migration tend to thrive over the coming decades, while places that lose folks do not.

Migration of people is driven by three factors; economic opportunity, quality of life and housing elasticity. Housing elasticity is simply whether the supply of housing adjusts to demand. With the exception of a dozen or so large metropolitan areas in the U.S., housing elasticity plays no meaningful role in household migration. In fact, the Midwest currently benefits from bad housing policies in other regions such as the West Coast. Thus, migration in the Midwest really comes down to economic opportunity and quality of life.

For most of American history, people moved for better farmland, better jobs and/or better places to start businesses. As the role of educated workers has grown, however, and the share of college graduates explains nearly 80 percent of the growth and earnings in a city, people began to value more than just economic opportunity in their location choices.

Today, research shows that jobs follow people, not business-friendly tax climates.

In 1980, few places enjoyed both economic opportunity and high quality of life, but as of 2019, they are highly correlated…

Over the past couple of decades, families found that their location choices were vastly expanded. Economic opportunity was tied to the places where people clustered, and people clustered where the quality of life was good.

In the 60s and 70s, the perceived differences between places was driven by nature–climate, mountains, lakes– not government. That has changed.

The empirical evidence is now extraordinarily clear. Places with restrictive social policies in the United States fail to become destinations for economic opportunity. They struggle to attract and retain their share of well-educated people. That trend is sure to continue, if not accelerate.

Another change: in the 2000s, a national focus on school quality emerged.

At the same time, labor markets began valuing education far more heavily. So, for the past couple of decades, it has become obvious that the quality of a K-12 and college education were prime determinants of economic opportunity for individuals.

In the post-COVID environment, the role of quality of life is even stronger. Today a quarter of all young, educated people have full-time remote jobs, and half work at least partially remote. The certain effect of this is that the amenities (and dis-amenities) of a region will weigh more heavily on prospective residents than ever before.

So, what do we know about the characteristics of a high quality of life?  Excellent schools, natural amenities/climate, and local recreational opportunities head the list. 

What is new is the fact that the effect of quality of life on population growth is close to four times larger after COVID than in the decade before. Much of that is due to remote work accelerating the existing trends. We don’t yet know how long that will last, but my guess is for at least a generation. We also know that a welcoming social climate matters.

Meanwhile, Indiana’s legislature continues to pursue an outdated low-tax strategy, shortchanging education and parks, among other quality of life amenities, and doubling down on  misogyny and homophobia.

No wonder we’re not thriving.


  1. “The (President Benjamin Harrison) Trust is the mechanism through which the state purchases land for conservation and parks.” Many of our “legislators” are big into land development, either directly or indirectly. Having land purchased for conservation and parks renders that land untouchable to developers, thus the Trust isn’t in their own self interests. The only quality of life they’re interested in is their own.

  2. We paid $2B in excess taxes while the Republicans spent -0- on natural places – parks. Brilliant!

    I suspect the hotel and leisure industry also had a say in this. Oligarchs don’t like public places because it competes with them. Public parks with amenities attract visitors, while hoteliers don’t.

    Peek behind the curtains at this idiocy for the answers. Think NPR and IPR were models for actual truth-seeking media until the oligarchs got their politicians to cut funding, causing our public press to beg for money from oligarchic donors. With the oligarch’s donations come many strings.

    As the Other Sheila pointed out, follow the money…

  3. There was study 4 or 5 years go talking about outdoor recreation and its economic impact. Outdoor recreation, nation wide, was a larger contributor to our economy than all extractive industries combined. Because outdoor rec is diverse, with fewer mega corporations, ( ie: individuals like self employed guides, small seasonal companies, and only handful of large shareholder corporations like Vail Resorts) republicans don’t value the economic impact as much because their portfolios are filled with stocks from oil/gas, defence or other heavy industry. Outdoor rec is seen as a distraction, something that “real” working people do on vacation, if they are disloyal enough to the company to take a vacation. They ignore the value of living in a place where you can participate in healthy outside sport, often on publicly owned land, because they see it as slightly reducing their “maximized shareholder return” never mind the studies indicating time off increases productivity and outdoor rec teaches skills to make you healthier mentally & physically. My 2 cents anyway, just a thought.

  4. There is a thing called “Hanlon’s razor,” which reads “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately
    explained by stupidity.” One might easily paraphrase that as “Never underestimate the stupidity of short-
    term thinking.”

  5. This is a perfect opportunity for the left to market failures of the wrong wing. They need to shout from rooftops. From Clifty Falls to Pokagon the parks are gems that even rural voters love. Each park has a focal point, like Shades State Park with its old growth forest. Hammer it home along with reproductive rights and democracy.

  6. Hard to care about parks when you are online gaming/gambling, “recreating” with marijuana and “following” A/B/C/D celebrities on social media. Young folks are busy, busy….

  7. its land to be bought and sold,trump paved another piece of land by eminate domain,thru his lifetime. his style of buisness depends on the goverment to piss themselves to give his buddies the right to give away anything that people need over their own ambitions for greed. the so called study to,whatever to take, and provide is usually one sided at best. i watched the jersey shore line of little bungalos and people who owned them be swept aside by the goverment of jersey to build a billionaires playground of wealth. as soon as some so called developer decides its his, good bye shade, and welcome sun baked pavement in return..

  8. Imagine the budget surplus you all would have if you TAXED THE CHURCHES! Because young people aren’t going there either.

  9. Oh ye agonizers! Think thou not of the benefits of inaction by our Solons? Everything they touch, they befoul. Blessed be their inaction. Woulds thou have our sundry parks privatized? Imagine naming rights for state parks? Shades renameth Flanner & Buchanan? Fort Harrison transmogrified to Bank One.

    Yeah verily, more fundamental, QofL be but a trendy invention to depict intangible preferences. Portland and Winchester be delights of a more settled generation. Shall we be driven by the transitory whims of those with imagined values? Once did I ask my IU-B students to scribe a single paragraph of their preferred locations. After analyzing these didst I discover they were all presenting images of San Francisco. Just as we hath over-built the suburbs of the ’50s, so now doth we over-invest in dwellings where inhabitants revel in their sundry apartness. Thus doth each become a pixel in the portrait of loneliness.

  10. State, county and local parks help strengthen the fabric of our society but they must be adequately funded and maintained in order to fulfill that purpose. Otherwise they become space that can be exploited by criminals such as vandals and gangs. Nobody wants to camp, bike, hike or boat where they feel unsafe. Failure to protect and expand public parks does harm to all of us. It’s just one more way our legislators betray the people who elected them and who pay their salaries.

  11. This state will be known for coal fired energy plants, corporate farming, poor teachers and bankrupt public schools along with a biased exception to equal rights. With ignoring the support and growth of our state parks how will we ever hope to attract Ginny and Clarence Thomas to RV here?

  12. Forgot to mention, Indiana will also be known for being a dumping ground for other states toxic waste, which has been going on for much too long.

  13. In my opinion, this is the result of the decimation of America’s Middle-Class. This Middle-Class elimination was successfully led by American Businesses. There are now two classes in America. The upper class controls government and funding.
    These upper-class Legislators see little value in services they don’t use and of course, they have second homes in these higher-quality communities, Country Clubs, and Resorts OUTSIDE of Indiana.
    Here is Noam Chomsky in 3 minutes as he outlines how things have changed since Eisenhower.

  14. Morton Marcus … brilliant. King James would be proud of you. “… so now doth we over-invest in dwellings where inhabitants revel in their sundry apartness. Thus doth each become a pixel in the portrait of loneliness.” Just brilliant.

  15. Mitch D – so true
    Morton – 8)>

    The legislature doesn’t care about quality of life, or even life itself. They believe that everything is about money – how much they can accumulate for themselves and their friends.

    Let’s get down to cases – Indiana needs a new motto – this one isn’t pity, but it is accurate:
    “Indiana – we love sports and hate taxes – after that, you’re on your own”

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