INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s another bundle of happy news about Indiana’s workers. This time it covers a 10-year span, including both the recession and the recovery. We’ll compare Indiana’s labor force in 2007 with 2017. Yes, it would be more interesting to use 2018 data, but they are being checked and prepared for distribution.

Happy item #1: Of Indiana’s 92 counties, 88 have seen their number of unemployed persons decrease by a combined total of 30,700.

Happy item #2: Only four counties (Hamilton, Porter, Hendricks, and Boone) saw the number unemployed increase. So small were these few increases that they totaled only 1,100 persons. It was also these four counties that led the state in increased employment and increased labor force. Were these small increases in the number unemployed just a timing factor as many people flocked to these counties where job growth was so plentiful?

Happy item #3: The number of employed Hoosiers increased in 50 counties by 178,300. Boone had a 26% increase, Hamilton 25%, Steuben 24.8%. Also enjoying increases of 15% or more were Gibson, LaGrange and Decatur. 

Question #1: Was the state’s economy healthy when 42 counties saw a decrease in the number of employed persons? Five counties (Orange, Jay, Blackford, Owen and Warren) each had losses of 15% or more in the number employed. Most people will be able to tell you what happens in a growing county. Is it worth examining what happens in places where the number employed is decreasing?

Happy item #4: The labor force in 43 counties grew by a total 160,200 persons. This increase was less than the 177,000 growth in the number employed. This means the number unemployed in those counties fell by 16,800.

Question #2: Why did the labor force in 49 Indiana counties decline by a total of 47,400? Did these people move where the jobs were available or did they give up on finding a job, and why?

Happy item #5: The rate of unemployment statewide fell from 4.6% to 3.5% and declined in 89 Indiana counties. Porter, Warren and Switzerland alone had higher unemployment rates in ’17 than in ’07.

Question #3: Do counties matter? Should we focus on the state as a whole and not worry about disparities among counties? Labor is mobile, can adjust to changing conditions, and is not constrained by county lines. Perhaps a regional approach is more consistent with reality. 

Question #4: Does such thinking neglect fundamental aspects of worker preferences? Does the labor market reflect family and community ties? 

Happy item #6: Our Indiana economic or workforce regions are composed of counties. Therefore, regional data are easily aggregated from available county data.   

Question #5: Are our Indiana regions based on administrative fatigue rather than the best model for forming regions?

Discuss these questions with a stranger. They are guaranteed to build friendships. 

Mr. Marcus is an economist. Reach him at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com. Follow his views and those of John Guy on “Who gets what?” wherever podcasts are available or at mortonjohn.libsyn.com.