Bringing context to rosy data in state’s jobs, wage storyline

In mid-November, Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann and Eric Doden, president of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, spoke at the annual Conference of the Indiana Economic Forum in Carmel. The next day, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released county-level data on wages and salaries and employment.

What a shame the data could not be released before they addressed their audience. Then they could have pointed with pride to the fact that Indiana’s 2013 average wage per job increased by 1.1 percent, faster than the nation’s 0.8 percent rise. Our rate of growth ranked 26th in the nation and right in line with South Carolina, Wyoming, Florida and Texas. We exceeded the growth rates of all four of our bordering states.

The average job in Indiana paid $460 more per year in 2013 than in the preceding year. This ranked 30th in the country and was

16 percent above the nation’s

$397 advance.

The audience would have had warm feelings from that news. Only now, reading this column, would anyone have to bother with some pin-pricking of the Hoosier balloon.

We know the nation’s numbers are often distorted by what happens in our largest state, California, which has 11 percent or one in nine jobs in the country. Last year, average wages in the Golden State fell by $661, a 1.1 percent decline, which was the worst performance in the nation.

When we drop California from our calculations, $100 is added to the increase of the average wage for the U.S. Now, Indiana’s advance of $460 per job slips from

16 percent above to 7 percent below the national average.

Additional perspective comes by factoring inflation into the picture. With a 1.5 percent increase in the consumer price index for the year 2013, Indiana was not one of the

17 states advancing fast enough for wages per job to outpace inflation. Hoosier workers lost buying power in 2013.

Undoubtedly, the lieutenant

governor and the president of economic development corporation would have noted half of Indiana’s 92 counties had increases in average wages per job last year that beat U.S. inflation (1.5 percent). This left 46 counties that did not see real average wages rise. Of those 46 lagging counties, 16 saw nominal or actual average wages per job fall in 2013.

Of our 92 counties, only 28 saw wages and salaries rise faster than the increase in jobs, thus generating an increase in wages per job in excess of inflation. These were the real winners; they included Gibson, Elkhart, Jackson and Shelby counties.

Just seven counties were losers across the board. They lost in wages and salaries paid, in jobs, as well as in average wages per job; thereby they also lost to inflation. These included Bartholomew, Jay, Lake and Harrison counties.

While the news had its positive elements, there were also important negatives deserving attention.

Details for specific counties available on request by emailing