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Friday, January 22, 2021
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Thursday, December 5, 2019 2:55 PM

How’s business? “Wonderful,” is the answer you’ll probably get from those who only know the stock market continues to rise. 

How is business in Indiana or in your sector of the economy? That answer is often hard to find. 

  • INDIANAPOLIS – The “normal” economy of 2019 is our launching pad for the post-pandemic world. We’ll be able to measure changes with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on wages for 725 occupations in each of the 50 states.In 2019, the average (mean) annual wage in Indiana, for all occupations, was $46,770. The median wage was $36,960, which tells us half of Indiana’s  workers made less than half more than that amount. In 2019, our average wage was 27% ($9,810) higher than the state’s $36,960 median wage. The average wage is almost always higher than the median wage. A few high paid executives and managers can boost the average wage way over the median. Many companies boast of their average wages giving the impression they pay their workers well. Indiana’s average wage in 2019 was 9.7% ($5,004) below the average for all states; our median wage was 8.2% ($3,320) below the median for all states.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – The COVID-19 pandemic inflicted sustained pain and hardship on too many for too long. The effect on our economy, however, is mixed. The shock to the economy occurred in March and April of 2020. In the United States, 24.7 million persons lost their jobs. Of these, 16.3 million (66%) were added to the numbers unemployed and 8.4 million left the labor force. During this recovery, through November 2020, 16.9 million persons have found new jobs or returned to previous positions. The number unemployed declined by 12.2 million and 4.6 million have come back into the labor force. (Don’t fret about the rounding problem with the numbers.) This partial recovery leaves us 7.8 million shy of the February employment numbers, distributed as 4.0 million unemployed and 3.8 million out of the labor force.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Yes, this is the third column on townships. Be patient; the end to this series is in sight. Originally, townships were to be perfect squares of six miles in each direction, or 36 square miles. They were to maintain public roads, provide public education, provide relief for the poor, and help maintain public safety. Today, the average Indiana township has 35.5 square miles of land area. That fact would make the surveyors who laid out our townships pretty happy. However, Union Twp. in Montgomery County. is the largest at 111.6 square miles, while Albion Twp. in Noble County has but 3.8 square miles. Why? Because the Indiana legislature in the 19th century was inclined to go along with what local folks wanted. In the 1800s, many elected officials didn’t care whether counties and townships fit what some Easterners thought would be best back in 1787. Ask your neighbors or your representatives in today’s General Assembly, “What do townships do?” They may tell you those governmental units provide poor relief. This is almost perfectly true.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – If you missed last week’s column, it was an introduction to Indiana townships. That topic is continued this week and will appear several more times before the year ends. “Why?” is a very good question. For years, decades in fact, thoughtful people as well as ignorant people, have said, “It’s time to get rid of townships.” I feel it is reasonable for us to know something more about the subject before we consider any action. Hence, it’s time you knew the 35,826 square miles of land in our Hoosier state are divided, not only into 92 counties, but also into 1005 townships, four cities and towns which have replaced townships in Boone and Delaware counties, and one small military training facility (Camp Atterbury in Bartholomew County). We will refer to all 1010 units as townships for our purposes. LaPorte County in Northwest Indiana hosts 21 townships followed by Allen County with 20 and Jasper County with 17. These three counties are also the state’s three largest counties in land area. It makes sense since each county and its townships were set out according to plan based on the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Readers have petitioned for columns that ignore our dysfunctional politics, disrupted economy, and medical calamity. I am compelled to comply. What could be more neutral, more emotionally void, and more sleep-inducing than a focus on Indiana’s townships? In truth, I must alert you to the fact we have lost three townships since the 2010 Census. Their departure was not widely broadcast beyond the borders of their two counties, Boone and Delaware. No sympathy cards are expected. In Boone County, as you might have heard, has seen considerable growth. Whitestown and Zionsville engaged in very suburban competition for present and future tax base. This is what passes for foresight in suburbs. In the process Eagle and Union Townships were absorbed.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – President-elect Biden has selected his COVID-19 Task Force. It is peopled by medical, scientific and health practitioners and administrators. Unencumbered by disbelief and gross incompetence, they can provide the best approach at this stage of the pandemic. In the parlance of sports, this task force will devise a game plan. But, as they and we know, a game plan requires execution and adaptability to both anticipated as well as unanticipated conditions. From my standpoint, a second task force is needed. It is not sufficient to know what needs to be done. How do we get compliance with what needs to be done? We have been told to wear face masks that cover our mouths and noses. This is a primary means of protecting ourselves and others from the virus. Many businesses post signs saying, “Masks are required to enter here.” To what extent is that requirement enforced? We have all sorts of useful data on the pandemic, but I’ve not seen compliance data.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Now that America is once again singing, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,” it’s appropriate to think about how we think. Typically, we think about people as people, which is all well and good. Sometimes we should think about people as they live in households. Often, households are a better unit of analysis. They are the social and buying units for appliances, newspapers, magazines, and turkeys. Yes, the number and characteristics of persons in a household, and their wealth, make a difference. But just increasing a household’s size doesn’t automatically increase the number of bathtubs, avocados or chess sets bought and used. Periodically, the U.S. Census Bureau issues an American Housing Survey (AHS). It’s smaller than other surveys done by the bureau. Indiana has too few people to have a report of its own. Our data are combined with those from Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. Census calls that five-state area the East North Central Division. Others know it as the Great Lakes Region.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Billy and wife Billie visited over the weekend. “Well, go ahead, tell him,” Billie declaimed as she slid into a rocking chair, glass of iced tea in hand. “I’m tired of explaining what he couldn’t be bothered to learn, bull-headed creature that he is.” “What’s the problem Billy?” I asked. “My boss,” Billy, who isn’t too generous with words, said. “His boss, my foot,” Billie interjected, obviously intending to be the color commentator to Billy’s play-by-play. “What about your boss?” I asked. “Cut our pay by 50%,” Billy said.

  • INDIANAPOLIS  — Last week in this space we learned the number of jobs in Indiana declined by 91,100 between March and August 2020. This decline was attributed to the pandemic. Now let’s look at the output and income effects experienced by Hoosiers. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has released estimates for the second quarter of 2020, when Covid-19 had its greatest impact. Before that we were hardly in a period of robust growth. There was slow growth nationally and in Indiana from the first quarter of 2019 to the same three months (January through March) in 2020. Without adjustment for very moderate inflation, the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose by a modest 2.1%, with Indiana just behind at 2.0% (24th among the 50 states). When the pandemic struck in the second quarter of 2020 (April through June), the U.S. suffered a GDP decline of 32.8% at an annual rate, with Indiana again not far off at -34.1% (29th among the states).
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — How bad the job loss was in the United States depends on your starting and ending points. If we take March 2020 as the last “normal” or pre-covid month, with August as our latest data point, then national job losses just exceeded 10 million. Yet, just three states (California, New York, and Texas) account for one third of that 10 million. Indiana is among the 38 states in the bottom third of that distribution. Indiana accounted for 91,100 (2.9%) of that 10 million job loss. While 10 million jobs nationally represented a 6.6% drop in wage and salary jobs from March, Indiana’s 91,100 loss was only 2.9% of our March jobs. That’s the basis for the Hoosier Happy Hour at the Statehouse; Indiana ranked 47th behind Hawaii in percent of jobs lost due to the virus. Only Utah, Mississippi and Idaho were more fortunate than we.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — While the legislators are home telling their constituents just how wonderful they have been recently, the east entry to the Statehouse is closed for repairs. Thus I was surprised when I heard the rasp of a familiar voice coming from the back of the statue of Gov. Morton. It was Sorethroat, my longtime conduit to all matters political below the radar. “Where ya goin’?” he asked, approaching the fence that separated us. “To lunch,” I replied. “Lunch,” he said. “With the price of cigs so high, I don’t do lunch anymore. But I got something you could chew on.”  “What’s that?” I asked. “The hot topic for the legislature of 2021-22. It’s going to be a barn-burner, so to speak. Where are people moving within metro areas?” he said. “You’re pulling my leg,” I responded.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — Calm down! It’s been like this for a very long time and it won’t get better because you just discovered you don’t like it. The revelations about Mr. Trump’s tax returns fomented great indigestion. But why? Your neighbors down the road are doing the same, just on a different scale. Every tax season, big retail accounting chains – can you say H&R Block? – guarantee every credit, deduction and exemption you’re entitled to. The problem is, your life is so uncomplicated, there are hardly any credits, deductions or exemptions you’re entitled to. Mr. Trump says he is a real estate developer. He puts together deals with other people’s money (and a bit of his own) to reshape our cities and countryside. Hotels, offices, condos, retail space, restaurants, golf resorts, and other new facilities are his specialties.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – How much money flows across Indiana county lines each year? According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2018, the in-flow of earnings to Indiana counties from places both within and outside the state was $74 billion or 36% of the earnings received by Hoosier residents. Does that resonate with you? It demonstrates why informed people stress real regionalism. Real regionalism recognizes the opportunities, the costs and the benefits of workers moving between counties. It means facilitating and, where appropriate, funding commuting. That is the philosophy behind the massive expenditure on extending the South Shore Line from Hammond to Dyer in Lake County and improving the service between Gary, Michigan City and South Bend. That same motivation is behind the long-term effort of Indianapolis to extend its public transit system into the surrounding counties.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – I’ll confess. Last week, I walked the line between growth and contentment. All right. I’m for economic development. My vision of economic development involves non-economic improvements. My ideal Indiana does not have decaying cities and suburbs that pretend they are cities. My ideal Indiana transforms itself from a stagnating mid-19th century state into a 21st century partner in the development of this country. In my Indiana, Hoosiers welcome cooperation with others in forming more effective institutions. They cease their incredible resistance to regional cooperation and dispense with the fake “regionalism” of current institutions. A few examples: Counties need to go through the process of internal consolidation. We have too many local governments. Most are antiquated ego enrichment programs enabling inertia. They are bolstered by state money for regional agencies which funnel money to local entities for questionable projects.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – For many readers data do not matter. Any number can be satisfactory or disturbing according to their beliefs. It’s like the protests on the streets. Some hear anguished cries for justice while others see mobs tearing the social fabric. Nonetheless, let’s look at the data. Real GDP measures the value of goods and services produced by business and government in the market economy, independent of inflation. When divided by population, Real GDP becomes Real GDP per capita where that output is produced. It can be interpreted as the capacity to produce for the people what they expect from the economy, what the people demand of the economy. Since some portion of Real GDP is exported to other communities, it also reflects what the world chooses to buy from a given place. Exports, however, rise or fall as local businesses decide to seek customers beyond local, state or national borders. Therefore, exports too reflect the local population’s world view. Real GDP per capita for Indiana in 2008 was 9.2% below the national figure, ranking 31st among the 50 states. Ten years later, we were 13.6% below the U.S. and in 33rd place. Over those years, our Real GDP per capita grew by 6.0%, 29th in a nation expanding output per capita by 11.0%.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Hank Hoosier explains his low income by saying, “We have a low cost of living in Indiana, so our incomes doesn’t have to be as high as elsewhere.” He pays no attention to me telling him, “Your low income is why your cost of living is low.” Today, I just lay it out flat for him. “Inflation is all we really know about. We don’t know beans about the cost of living. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which so many people incorrectly call the cost of living, is just what it says it is, an index of consumer prices. “The cost of living is hard to define. We all have a different idea of what standards should go into that concept. It can get rather personal, tied up with our expectations. We can know actual rental and grocery prices plus the quantities bought and then compare them over time. But a “cost of living” is a different beast for which we don’t have any official measure.” 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Flora Fetid, our friendly former neighbor, was visiting, sitting eight feet away, as currently fashionable. “Fred and I,” she said, “are going to rent out our house when we go to Morocco. We’ll be gone about a year and it makes sense.” “Oh my,” I said. “I hear that’s ‘a country of dizzying diversity.’ Will you be on the Atlantic or Mediterranean coast? “No, idiot,” she said sweetly. “We’ll be continuing our research about families of Newton County and elsewhere along the Kankakee River. Morocco’s the perfect location.” “Exciting,” I responded. To cover my geographic error, I asked, “For how much will you rent your house?” “We don’t know,” Flora replied. “How much would you say?”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – With apologies to Rod Serling, consider, if you will, Rob and Rhonda, two ordinary Hoosiers doing what they customarily do each weekday in the Economic Zone. Rhonda leaves the house to be at the job site by 7 a.m., hard hat on, blueprints in hand. Rob takes off at 8:10 with the kids for elementary school and then to the public library where he will drive the bookmobile and serve as its librarian until mid-afternoon. Rhonda is proud of the building her crew is constructing to green standards with the latest technology. Rob delights in bringing reading opportunities to people who find it difficult to reach a library branch. Both are warm-hearted do-gooders. Neither is prepared for the crushing truth about to fall on them. Clouds darken over the city. Lightning flashes and thunder rumbles in the distance. A voice without a direction says softly, but for all to hear, “From this time forward, you will all pay for the costs you impose on others. You are not being punished. You are merely doing right.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Recently, we examined the median incomes of all households in the nation and Indiana, with a special focus on Black households. Now, let’s look more broadly within our state. The Census Bureau provides median household income data for 2018. The racial or ethnic characteristic of a household is determined on the basis of the person responding for the household. Therefore, if a Black person answers, the household is considered Black despite the partner of that person being Asian. It’s imperfect but has both statistical and practical validity. The median, you will recall, is where half of all households are above and half below the reported number. The 2018 median income for all households in the state was $55,746, ranging from $94,644 (Hamilton County) to a low of $42,217 (Blackford). Black households (9.3% of all Indiana households) reported a median income statewide of $32,290, going from $83,588 (Putnam) to a low of $20,271 (Miami). Counties with small minority populations may give rise to results with large margins of error.
  • INDIANAPOLIS — Let’s go shopping. The most recent data (2018 from the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns) tell us that Indiana supported more businesses associated with autos than food. The count was 8,700 to 3,600.  Restaurants are not included; no one I know says, “Let’s go shopping at Swill Burger.” Yes, it’s distressing. Auto and truck dealers, parts suppliers, and gasoline stations are more than twice as common as places to buy food. Of course, this Covid-19 has restaurants now specialized in take-out food, thus again destroying our carefully constructed statistical structures. Indiana has 571,000 business establishments, of which one in nine (10.9%) is engaged in retail trade. Oh, we did in 2018, but how many will we have in 2021?
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  • Pence says they will return to live in Indiana
    “Serving as your vice president was the greatest honor of our life, but now that that season of service has come to an end, we just had to come home. We’ll always be grateful for the opportunity that they gave us to serve and the way that they allowed us to make a difference in the life of this nation.” - Former vice president Mike Pence, appearing with wife Karen in his hometown of Columbus, Ind., on Wednesday before a small crowd that included U.S. Rep. Greg Pence, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Indiana GOP Chairman Kyle Hupfer. Pence said that they will return to live in Indiana this summer.
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  • HPI Power 50: Crisis shapes 2021 list


    INDIANAPOLIS – After two decades of publishing Power 50 lists in the first week of January, this one comes in a true crisis atmosphere. As we watched in horror the U.S. Capitol being overrun by supporters of President Trump on Wednesday, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 8,000 Hoosiers and 350,000 Americans, shutting down our state and nation for nearly two months last spring. While vaccines are coming, there will be a distinct BC (Before COVID) and AC delineations as this epic story comes to a close. It gripped like a vise key figures, from Gov. Eric Holcomb to Vice President Pence. It delayed an election, closed schools and restaurants, reordered the way we do business and buy things, and will set in motion ramifications that we can’t truly understand (like the virus itself) at this point in time. There’s another crisis at hand. It’s our society’s civics deficit, fueled by apathy that transcends our schools and societal engagement, and allowed to fester by a news media in atrophy. That three members of the Indiana congressional delegation – U.S. Sen. Mike Braun and Reps. Jim Banks and Jackie Walorski – signed on to a protest this week, induced by losing President Donald Trump to “investigate” widespread vote fraud that doesn’t exist, is another indicator of the risks a polarized and undisciplined political spectrum brings to the fragile American democratic experience.

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