Pharos-Tribune

Columns

May 27, 2014

MARCUS: Hoosiers keep fooling themselves

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, a rate below the unemployment rate nationally.

Yet our median household income (MHI) is 8.6 percent lower than the figure for the nation. Our MHI, 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, we fail to invest in our children and thereby keep them from being employable elsewhere.

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