Johnson County residents earned in 2010 what the rest of the nation was making on average in the 1990s.
The average pay of county residents was $35,228 in 2010, which was the last year the researchers had data for, and matched the national average in 1997, according to a Ball State University study. Residents’ average income has fallen behind typical national earnings since then.
Indiana as a whole has stayed behind the U.S. average earnings since 1964.
Studies of personal income tend to measure in percentage points how far residents’ earnings are behind the rest of the country, but the Ball State study shows how many years behind the national average most Indiana counties are.
How many years a county is behind could reflect how many years it might take to catch up, according to Michael Hicks, Ball State professor and one of the study’s researchers.
A goal of the study was to expose how far behind the counties were, so local officials could consider how to catch up with the rest of the country and how long that might take, he said.
“The idea was to give some sense of what the standard of living is in counties relative to the nation as a whole and explain it in a way that is understandable by most folks,” he said.
One reason Indiana has lower incomes than the national average could include the fact that cities such as Los Angeles, which have larger populations, higher costs of living and higher average pay, inflate the national numbers, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.
“I don’t know how we could
compare Johnson County to the entire nation,” he said.
Except for Boone, Hamilton and Hancock counties, all Indiana counties have been trending behind the national average for years, Hicks said. Counties such as Boone and Hamilton, which have a growing population of people who’ve moved in from other counties and states, are topping national income averages because they are attracting new residents who have higher-paying jobs, Hicks said.
Short term, residents move to where jobs are, but long term, businesses move to counties where the people they prefer to employ want to live, he said.
The Indiana counties with higher average incomes have attracted engineers, attorneys and consultants as residents, said Tim Slaper, director of economic analysis with the Indiana Business Research Center. In most areas of the state, such as Johnson County, the common machinist jobs and other production-related positions don’t pay enough to boost the average income of the residents, he said.
The counties keeping up with the national average don’t have the history of manufacturing work that Johnson County has, McGuinness said.
“We do a lot of manufacturing. That is the talent we have, and we embrace that; and I think we do that really well,” he said.
Unemployment and underemployment also contribute to the low average income in the county, said Carol Phipps, co-manager of the Interchurch Food Pantry of Johnson County.
In the past five years, the pantry has had a 75 percent increase of clients needing food, she said. The recession and residents’ lack of job skills, including basics such as interviewing and resume writing, have kept them from earning the incomes they need to support themselves, she said.
Organizations such as Johnson County Development Corp. are partnering with local high schools and businesses to learn how to help local workers improve their skills and meet the needs of companies that are hiring, President and CEO Cheryl Morphew said.
For example, the development agency plans meetings for teachers and business leaders to discuss how the schools can train students in character traits, such as work ethic and the reliability of showing up on time to their jobs, that businesses want, she said.
“There’s a gap in work ethic. Where that’s coming from, it’s anyone’s philosophical guess,” Morphew said.
Johnson County officials would like to attract higher-paid jobs, McGuinness said. Franklin tries to keep property tax rates comparable to other cities and offers tax abatements as incentives for companies to expand or relocate, he said.
“It’s highly, highly competitive,” he said.