There is a lot of talk about flat wages. It’s not just talk; it’s a fact.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, average weekly wages in 42 of Indiana’s 92 counties were lower (after adjustment for inflation) in 2014 than in 2008.
Statewide, the problem is much worse than in the nation. Indiana’s real average weekly wages rose only 0.7 percent in those six years; nationally the increase was 2.6 percent. It’s not that we fell from a great height; in 2008 our wages were 15.6 percent below those of the U.S. By 2014, we had continued to slip downhill in a fog of self-deceit to 17.2 percent below the nation.
Who took the worst of the hit? You need look no further than your local government employees. Statewide, public-safety workers, teachers, librarians and others who work for us and live in our neighborhoods saw their real wages drop 2.8 percent. At the same time, local government workers across the nation realized a decline of 0.8 percent.
Within Indiana we had great differences in real gains and loss. I cannot explain many of them and will have to depend on your editor to fill in the gaps in my knowledge.
Why did Sullivan County see an increase in average weekly earnings (after adjustment for inflation) of 22.9 percent to lead the state between 2008 and 2014? What high-paying jobs were gained or low-paying jobs lost?
Was it a near-collapse of the local casino that caused Ohio County to have its real wages fall 24.3 percent?
How did it happen that Greene County had a decline of 10.9 percent, but its neighbor, Owen County, had a growth of 8.2 percent?
Over those six years, 2008 to 2014, the top three counties did not change rank in wages paid to workers, but their experiences were quite different. Martin County (with the Crane research facility) had the highest weekly wages at $1,256 in 2014, after enjoying a 4.1 percent real increase. Posey County (with the port and the GE plant) came in second with a $994 average, despite realizing a 3.1 percent decline. Third place was occupied by highly diversified Marion County, where the average weekly wage in 2014 was $985, up a slight 0.7 percent.
At the bottom in average weekly wages paid in 2008 was trinket heaven Brown County, only to be replaced in 2014 by Ohio County. Crawford County was in the bottom three in each of those years, while Starke County moved up from 90th to 88th, leapfrogging over Parke County.
What’s the difference between the top and the bottom of these counties? Martin, Posey and Marion counties are producing for a larger world. Brown, Ohio, Crawford, Starke and Parke sell commodities and not sufficiently differentiated services.
If you want to make more money, you have to do something others are willing to pay for … handsomely.