Spinning economic clouds into blue skies

By Morton Marcus

“Tis the season to be jolly!” Sol Sunshine tells me. “Too often your weekly homily paints a dark picture of Indiana. Lighten up. Tell us the truth, but spin it on the positive side.”

“OK,” I say. “I’ll do it, but I have to trust you to see the grim shadows that are an important part of the truth.”

Thus, this column is for Sol and all the readers who share his particular Seasonal Affective Disorder. To simplify matters, think of society divided into two groups: those in poverty and those not in poverty, whom we shall call affluent.

Indiana is right at the national average with 86 percent of all persons not living in poverty. Roughly, that’s 5.5 million affluent Hoosiers frolicking through Ikea and Costco, attending Pacer and Colts games, living what we once called the Life of Reilly. We’re in 29th place among the 50 states for the highest percent of the affluent, just above Missouri and just below Idaho.

As for the children, those under age 18, 81 percent live in affluence; that’s four out of five Hoosier youngsters taking trips to Disney, scuba diving in the Caribbean and enjoying their birthrights as Americans.

How good is life for Hoosier children? In eight of our 92 counties, more than 90 percent of those 0 to 17 years old live affluent lives. Naturally, the best place for a child in Indiana is Hamilton County, where more than 95 percent of children enjoy the blessed life.

Other high-performing Indiana counties are Hendricks, Boone, Dubois, Hancock, Warrick, Johnson and Porter — mainly suburban counties (except Dubois). This leads us to wonder: should we move families (or at least children) from Grant County, with only 71 percent of those under 18 counted as affluent, to a wealthier environment such as Marshall County, suburban South Bend-Elkhart-Goshen-Warsaw.

Could it be true that simply living in the right place can lift whole families to economic glory?

Of course, socially responsible Hoosiers are focused on the future and the education of youngsters ages 5 to 17. Our schools, public and private, work with 82 percent affluent children. More than four out of five young Hoosier scholars are not in poverty, a figure slightly better than the national average.

This fact may justify lower school spending by the state and quiet the Cassandras whose dire warnings prophesize future labor market failures for Hoosiers.

Finally, these 2016 data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census show that Indiana rests comfortably next to California in terms of very young children. In the Golden State, 79.3 percent of children under age 5 are not in poverty. In Indiana, we can claim 79.0 percent affluent kiddies, compared to 78.7 percent nationally.

Sol Sunshine is right. Flip the numbers upside down, use positive wording, and, presto, Willie Nelson is singing, “Blue skies shining on me, Nothing but blue skies do I see.”

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