If Indiana is doing so well, why are we doing so poorly? By now you’ve heard Indiana continues to have a declining unemployment rate, which is below the unemployment rate nationally.
Yet our median household income is 8.6 percent lower than the figure for the nation. Our median household income, adjusted for inflation, is 18 percent below our own previous peak back in 1999. That is twice the nation’s fall of 9 percent over the same 15-year period.
It comes down to a simple reality: Indiana public policies are focused on jobs and not wages. Many of our economic development officials and our elected political leaders would rather accept short-term success in bringing low-paying jobs to Indiana than financing the more difficult long-term solutions that lead to higher earnings.
There is a tradeoff many of our politicians don’t want to make. It involves doing things that others do elsewhere (trolley cars, bicycle lanes, sports facilities) that might attract companies and individuals to our towns versus doing those hard things (education and rigorous workforce development) that would benefit today’s Hoosiers wherever they work tomorrow.
It is understandable. A mayor or council member, a school superintendent or a board member often prefers to leave a tangible legacy rather than something hard to see which may not be realized in the near term or even in this state.
This pattern of behavior is consistent with the persistent drive to keep our children close to home. How much money has been spent by well-intentioned organizations on stopping the brain drain?
It is an emotionally appealing crusade. Keep our children close to home so we can enjoy our grandchildren now and the support our middle-aged children can give us in our declining years.
Some folks believe we lose the benefits of education when our children become successful elsewhere. I thought, as families, we want to see our children succeed. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe that sense of loss is so great that we fail to invest in our children and thereby keep them from being employable elsewhere.
Perhaps the problem is that too few households have children in school. As our population ages and as marriages are deferred, the portion of households with children declines. Further, those who do have students at home may be willing to let the education of other people’s youngsters fail as long as they think their little darlings are well-served.
Hoosiers now are being lulled into complacency by our relatively low unemployment rate.
We are caught up in bureaucratic and political disputes about standards and licensing when we ought to be outraged about the low level of achievement of our young adults who have already passed through our formal education institutions.
Our state’s need is to look clearly at the consequences of our collective stinginess, our low level of aspirations, our fear of change and our pride in being backward.
Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.