“So you’re back to writing about economic growth instead of income distribution,” Charlene Charming announced as she came up on the deck. “It’s about time for a guy who says keep your eye on the pie, not just how it’s sliced.”
Before I could greet her or even respond, she said, “What do you tell people is the best indicator of economic growth? Are you a property value guy? Prefer net migration of population? Wages per job ring your chimes? Or are you stuck on that old chestnut, per capita personal income?”
“Actually,” I started to say, but she continued like a high-speed train running behind schedule.
“Lately,” she said, “I ran the numbers on non-farm earnings for Indiana and its 92 counties. Took everything from 1984 to 2014 …. a 30-year span to get a good long-term view … only real way to look at an economy.”
“Hmm,” I hummed.
“Interesting results,” she insisted. “But first you gotta know the data. Of course, I chose non-farm earnings because, over time, most jobs aren’t fixed in place, not tied to the land. Probably should have excluded mining and lumber, but they don’t weigh heavily in Indiana.
“Earnings are good; they capture changes in both the number of jobs and the average wage per job in the public and private sectors, while including wage earners and business proprietors.”
“Indeed,” I confirmed.
“So which counties do you think had the best and worst growth records in those 30 years?” she asked, but did not wait for an answer. “Never mind; that’s only part of the story.
“Stability!” she pronounced as if royalty was approaching. “It’s not just how fast you grow, but how stable is that growth.
“By my figures,” she continued, “Hendricks County is the winner: second in the state in average growth rate and first in stability of growth. And, as you might have suspected, four other Indy metro counties are up there: Hamilton, Boone, Johnson and Hancock round out the top five.”
“Certainly says something about where the good times are,” I replied.
“Bet you know the county at the bottom,” she said. “Yup, it’s Fayette (Connersville), last in growth rate and last in stability of that rate. The others in the bottom five counties are clustered; they’re Madison, Blackford, Howard and Miami.”
“What about boom or bust Elkhart County?” I asked.
“Well,” Charlene paused, “Elkhart grew slightly faster (4.8 percent) than the state’s 30-year average of 4.5 percent; that put them in 35th place. Yes, they ranked 70th in stability, (that’s 23rd in volatility); hardly boom and bust. Over all, Elkhart’s not much different from Warrick, Putnam, Bartholomew or Jefferson counties.
“Say,” she said, “you got anything cool and tasty around here to drink?” I got us each an Indiana-brewed dark beer and tried talking about something light.