Hoosier economy shows disparities since recession

Somebody is sure to ask, “Are you better off now than you were in 2007?” That was probably the one year most folks think of as “pre-Great Recession”, when the Good Times last rolled.

Your answer is going to depend on where you live now, what you are doing now, compared to where you were and what you were doing back then. We’ll use 2007 and 2015 annual averages at the county level from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development to get some idea about how the Hoosier economy is now compared to then.

Let’s start with the unemployment rates. Back in 2007, the highest unemployment rate fell on Fayette County at 7.2 percent. In 2015, Vermillion had that honor at 7.1 percent. In both periods, Hamilton County could boast the lowest unemployment rate of Indiana’s 92 counties, although the rate did rise there from 2.9 to 3.4 percent

Hamilton was just one of 40 Hoosier counties with a higher unemployment rate in 2015 than eight years earlier. By contrast, 32 counties saw their unemployment rates fall over that period, while 20 counties had negligible changes from minus one to plus one percent.

Despite the attention paid every month by politicians and the media, the real stories are in the numbers behind the unemployment rate, the persons who are employed or unemployed who together make up the labor force.

(There are six official unemployment rates produced each month by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Conservatives and liberals have their favorites. Few are satisfied with the most widely quoted rate; we’ll leave that for next week.)

In 40 of our counties, more people were employed in 2015 than in 2007. At the same time, 44 counties saw the number of persons unemployed fall over that time period. That’s the good news. Yet those who did well in the second grade recognize 52 counties had a decline the numbers employed while 48 counties saw the numbers unemployed rise.

Hamilton County accounted for 22,400 (46 percent) of the 48,200 increase in employed Hoosiers. Tippecanoe came in second with a 10,400 increase while Marion County added 10,000 and Hendricks another 9,100. Together these four counties added more employed people than the rest of the state combined.

Lake County, on the other hand, saw the largest increase in persons unemployed with 3,900 (40 percent) of the state’s added 9,900 jobless. Over the course of these eight years, state figures show a 0.02 percent increase in the number of Lake County residents holding jobs. At the northeast corner of the state, Steuben County enjoyed a 24 percent increase among the employed. Blackford County experienced nearly a 20 percent decline in employed persons, the worst percentage loss any county suffered.

However, jobs are not gained or lost by percentage points. LaPorte County had the sad distinction of losing 4,400 employed persons, while Wayne County trailed with a loss of 2,900.

Does anyone in or out of a state office notice or care about these disparities?

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.