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Sunday, February 17, 2019
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  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Let’s take a short stroll through the orchards of data prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. While we are there, please consider how your county can increase the earnings (wages and salaries) of your residents. No, I’m not going to preach for higher minimum wages, more skillful workers, or generous employers. Leave all of that outside the orchard gate. Let’s just think about the income generated in our counties, but paid to workers who live elsewhere. That’s right. The person working next to you in a factory, warehouse, office or store may be an “alien” from Henry County (New Castle). He takes his earnings back home to Hancock County (Greenfield) where he buys groceries and pays property taxes, to say nothing of other spending. Do you have any sense of the magnitude of those funds flowing out as each commuter leaves for his or her home in another Indiana county? Or maybe even in an Ohio county?
  • INDIANAPOLIS  –  Some politicians use a magic mirror to ask: “Which is the fairest tax of all?” Likewise, some economists and other social agitators look into the same mirror to ask: “Which tax, currently in use, is the most regressive tax of all?” Both groups are answered: “The sales tax!” It’s wonderful to have such a mirror. Some fair tax people are devoted to the sales tax. After all, with exemptions for the barest necessities, like food and medicine, a sales tax discourages consumption, which is a sin. They contend responsible people, regardless of income level, save. You must put away money for that inevitable day when ill fortune brings unemployment, accident, illness, or college education. Those savings are to be invested in corporate America via mutual funds or other stock market instruments.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Like other Indiana cities, Columbus seeks to strengthen its downtown area. The plan was detailed by The Republic (Dec. 2, 2018). What appears to some as a progressive move forward is perceived by this aged observer as a reversion to previous concepts.  This is not a disparagement of the Envision Columbus plan. No. It’s a recognition of changing preferences and lifestyles, as well as the pendulum swings in urban land prices. Let’s look at some details. As the burdens of suburban living became manifest, downtown residences became popular again. The Columbus plan asserts: “young people and families expressed an interest and desire to live in the downtown area.” This might be a real trend or a transitory Millennials’ mirage.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – He was very pale and dressed in shades of gray. His business card read A.G. Bell. No address or contact information. Only the name. His Scottish accent was filtered through a generous white beard. “Youngster,” he said. “I be disturbed by excessive ringing in me ears.” “Tinnitus,” I was quick to diagnose. “I have it. It’s a continuous hissing sound that’s always in the background. Comes with age.” “I not be thinking that,” Mr. Bell said. “It’s truly ringing of me telephone. Not continuous, but frequent and excessive.” “Your popularity?” I offered. “So many folks wanting to talk with you. It’s a good thing you don’t put your phone number on your business card. Nonetheless our numbers do get out. And they do get used by all sorts of people.” “Six times in a single hour!” he roared. “Not one of them a call from someone I knew or even one who knew me. All of them trying to get into me purse for things or purposes.” “Ah, yes,” I said knowing the correct diagnosis now. “Unsolicited solicitations. Folks trying to sign you up for more comprehensive health insurance, advanced home safety systems, better credit cards, and exceptional good causes.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Drive along some of Indiana’s interstates and a single fact becomes evident: There are large numbers of persons on the road with you who are sexually deprived or unsatisfied. How else can you explain all those ads for “adult” literature and apparatus? Freudians would likewise see the many billboards for fireworks as appealing to suppressed libidos. Billboards are unlike other advertisements. You cannot avoid them. They enter your line of sight and are a distraction. But they also provide information, often desired and welcome information. That’s the tradeoff – information vs. intrusion. Some will escalate the discussion by arguing freedom of speech and property rights of land owners are at stake when regulation of billboards is under consideration. Newspapers, television, magazines, cellphones, your computer screen all are carriers of advertising. However, there is a difference: You and I invite those media into our lives. We can choose to ignore advertisements or to study them in detail. With billboards, we do not choose to be informed about Kitty’s Krunchy Karamels, Fred’s Fearsome Fireworks, or George’s Gents’ Grotto. Yet, it’s good to know a Bilge Burger is just ahead.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Last week we promised the data to back up the disquieting claim that “Indiana is not, and has not been, outperforming the nation in job or wage growth.” According to the Census of Employment and Wages, Indiana added 323,000 private sector jobs between 2010 and 2017, years of recovery from the Great Recession and a 14.0% increase compared to a 15.2% growth nationally. “That’s nothing,” you might say. “Only about 28,000 jobs spread over 92 counties and seven years.” True, but consider this: The seven states with 40% of the jobs in 2010 enjoyed 52% of the job growth. California alone increased its job count by 2.5 million, more than the entire number of Hoosier jobs in 2010 (2.3 million). Within Indiana, 78 counties gained employment, led by Marion County with an increase of 50,400, ranking first in numeric growth, but only 36th in percent increase. Vigo County had the distinction of losing the most jobs (829) while Martin County lost 15.1% of its jobs.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Next week’s column will offer data demonstrating the failure of Indiana and a substantial portion of its counties to exhibit even average economic growth in jobs and wages. You, therefore, have seven days to sharpen your arguments supporting complacency, even satisfaction, with our economic progress. Flatly stated, Indiana is not, and has not been, outperforming the nation in job or wage growth. Yes, for short periods of time, largely in the early part of the recovery from the Great Recession (2010 to 2012), Indiana did better than the nation as a whole. But if we take the entire recovery period (2010 to 2017), the story is one of continued mediocrity at best. Why are we misinformed and self-satisfied? Is it the adverse economics of journalism combined with the self-interest of the booster community? The Times of Northwest Indiana did run a story on business closings in the past year, but how many other news outlets did so?
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Charlene Curio is a journalism student on her first off-campus interview. “Why do you write this weekly newspaper column?” she asks. “To introduce Hoosiers to their state,” I respond. “It was an idea of newspaper editors at a dinner in 1990 that became reality the next year. As I traveled the state I realized folks everywhere knew little about Indiana’s economy and population. Newspapers then, as today, focused on local sports, crime, and politics. They didn’t provide much information about the state and how what happens in one region compares to other areas.” “What should Hoosiers know about Indiana they don’t already know?” Charlene asks. “Where were you born?” I ask her. “In Indiana,” she replies with neither pride nor embarrassment. “And that’s the answer 68% of the people living in Indiana would give to that same question,” I tell her. “There are only 10 states with a higher percent of persons living in their state of birth. The top five are Louisiana (78%) followed by Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Mississippi. Altogether, 59% of Americans live in their state of birth.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Some Hoosiers will find delight in this week’s column because it shows the government sector in Indiana. Another segment of our population will see more evidence of government services going down the drain. Dataphobes in both groups will read no further shrinking. Between 2007 and 2017, our increase in private non-farm (PNF) jobs rose by 5.6%, half the rate of growth in the U.S. (10.8%). While nationally state and local government jobs (S&LG) rose by 1.1%, Indiana had a 1.8% decline. Those percentages translate in jobs important to families and citizens of every town. Nationally, the PNF sector added 16.4 million jobs, while Indiana added 181,000. However, while the U.S. added 210,000 jobs in S&LG, Indiana lost 7,300 jobs. Yes, there was a great recession in those years, but we did not see “our share” of the private sector recovery despite being “a state that works.” Our incentives, foreign junkets, Eastern Standard Time, lower than thou business taxes, even our treasured backwardness were not enough to lure more private sector jobs.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – You probably noticed the 2018 elections are over, except in states where recounts are proceeding or in bars, diners, and family rooms where pride and disbelief are in conflict. Now what? If we want to restore integrity and responsibility to government, redistricting is imperative. If we understand the need for fair taxation and meaningful regulation, redistricting is the first big step. If we are to pass the environment to future generations as our greatest asset, redistricting is urgent. Across this land legislatures are less responsive to the electorate than to the moneyed men and women. Public service has become private enrichment in too many cases because legislators can, and do, choose their voters. Congressional district boundaries are redrawn following a census of the population every 10 years. Cities, towns, counties, school corporations and other governmental units follow suit in most instances. Political power is supposed to follow the people as they move and add to their families.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – The joy of the Internet is serendipity, the act of finding something of interest you were not looking for. It is the same joy we find in the public library or a book store wandering the stacks. Recently, I found a list of the “Prettiest Towns in Every State”, presumably published by Architectural Digest. Since it was on the Internet, I could not be sure it was published by AD, a magazine that describes itself as “the international design authority.” My suspicions were raised when I read that the prettiest town in Indiana was … wait for it… Porter in Porter County of Northwest Indiana. Porter is OK and popular with those who like the ribs and ambiance at Wagner’s. But prettiest town in Indiana? Not by a long shot. Yet, this got me thinking about the long battle for clean air and water in Northwest Indiana, which led me to dwell on the battle over climate change.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – The 2018 elections are upon us. Just turn on your TV if you don’t believe me. But why should you do that? Facts, context and experience are old fashioned ideas in today’s world. They have been replaced by rant, rote, and outright lies. Normally, this column is over-stuffed with data. Not this time. Instead we’ll stay in the stratosphere where there isn’t enough oxygen to support facts. Tonight (which may be several days before you read this), I’ll deliver a talk on fear in our nation. Since I have no qualifications as a psychologist, I am perfectly positioned to deliver this lecture. Fear is often based on ignorance and the willful disregard of facts, context and experience. Thus, Shakespeare kills off Polonius, the character in Hamlet who advises his son, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” The Bard knew better. Borrowing and the resultant debt are rational, healthy aspects of economic life.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Allow me to put a few numbers before you to illustrate the problem with facts. I’m not referring to “fake facts” which is what real facts are called by the ideologically unbalanced. Some of these people are on the light-weight left and even more are on the degenerate right. The latest figures from the IRS based on income tax returns are for 2016.  In 2004, a dozen years earlier, the United States had 133 million individuals and households filing the 1040 income tax return. In 2016 that figure was up to nearly 150 million, a 12.6% increase. But it is money, not the number of returns, that counts and the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) entered on those forms rose by 51%. As we look closer into the data, we find that returns showing AGI of $200,000 or more rose by 125% in numbers and 109% in dollars between 2004 and 2016. The $200,000+ bracket accounted for 2.3% of all returns in ’04 and 25% of AGI. It’s a lot of money for a small minority.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – It seems every Indiana county has a tourism agency. Some are very small, modest efforts working with tiny amounts of money from the private sector. Others are big time, by Hoosier standards. They have local tax money, thanks to local pressure on the state legislature which granted them the power to levy taxes on the customers of hotels, motels, restaurants, bars and cars. With big enough budgets, tourism expands from vacationers to visitors for any reason. The biggest prize is a national political convention of big-name big-spenders, lasting five days with contentious TV coverage. To hold these pow-wows of potted plutocrats, palaces must be constructed. Larger, more grand facilities must be planned and built by the public sector for the benefit of a city’s reputation and the enrichment of selected patrons. Even towns of smaller size lust after conventions of penurious professors or podiatrists.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – In case it has escaped your attention, America and Indiana are changing. Some of us cheer while others jeer; some of those changes are rapid while other are languid. Tradition, or stubbornness, keeps Indiana from changing as rapidly as the rest of the nation. According to the latest (2017) Census reports from the American Community Survey, the number of households in the U.S. grew by 4.4% between 2011 and 2017; Indiana added only 3.7%. Nonetheless, that’s more than 90,000 additional households. We don’t think in terms of households. Normally, we talk about the number of persons, the population, but households have different implications for a community, and its economy, than population alone. Households subscribe to newspapers and magazines. The number of households more than the population is a determinant of water, sewer and fire infrastructure. Households buy washing machines, dryers, air conditioners, de-humidifiers and coffee pots. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Last week the Census Bureau tried to shock Americans by reporting that “three-fourths of the nation’s businesses don’t have paid employees.” It’s a headline appropriate for Halloween. That was the 2016 reality of nearly 25 million firms in this country. How can that be? It’s easy to understand, if you just look around. Think about all those trucks on the nation’s highways driven by owner-operators. These are independent entrepreneurs who carry goods for one or more shippers. Often they bid for loads, stopping for coffee and to pray for falling fuel prices. However, before we celebrate these highway heroes of the competitive market place, let’s understand they face conglomerate trucking empires and shippers who press constantly for lower trucking fees. It can be a hard life, not only due to the ordeals of extensive travel, but as a result of the grinding nature of commercial independence.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Recently, the Northwest Indiana Economic Forum presented an introduction to its five-year strategic plan. Most folks will tell you the seven NWI counties — Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton, Jasper, Pulaski and Starke — have had some tough years. Some will say it’s been rough going since the mid-70s. But history and its residue was cast aside as the audience of nearly 500 in Hobart was regaled with an impressive list of new investments made recently by relocating and existing businesses. No mention was made of jobs lost, ongoing pollution, or wage gains for existing jobs. Instead there was a flourishing of optimism, a recognition of a turning point, and declaration that now is the time to “Ignite the Region.” Only the pompoms and the boys’ band with 76 trombones were missing during the finale, as business leaders rose to pledge funding for the next steps.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – At my grandson’s school, students are learning to think broadly as expressed in their adoption of Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase, “To infinity and beyond.” While every media outlet seems focused on the hijinks preceding the 2018 elections, those contests are a mere prelude to the national circus in 2020. Mega-money, now being spent by partisan groups, will not compare with the sums flowing through the political arteries two years from now. Neglected in this process are the state legislative elections this year. The entire Indiana House and half the Senate are on the ballot. Those elected this year could (if they have the courage) restore integrity to the House and Senate district boundaries. Establishing a justifiable system for redistricting after the 2020 Census is an imperative that informed voters cannot ignore. Elvis would croon to us, “It’s now or never.”
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – We revel in stories about our cities and counties, but, aside from the sports section, rarely see anything substantive about school districts. School districts are more numerous than counties (289 to 92), and what newspaper has room for all that information which parents learn from their children anyway? School is just about the kids and most businesses that advertise don’t have kids for customers. Yet, Indiana’s school districts are very different one from the other. The latest comprehensive school district data are for 2016 in the American Community Survey, which is a five-year compilation, and who can tell what that means? For example, the highest rate of unemployment in that Census Bureau report was 10.8% within the district of Lake Ridge Schools of Lake County, while the South Knox schools, down in the Vincennes area, had a mere 0.9% unemployment rate.
  • INDIANAPOLIS - Employers tell us there aren’t enough workers in Indiana to fill all the jobs firms have open. How do they know this? Presumably this complaint is based on experience. Advertising, in one way or another, is not getting the jobs filled. The response all over the state is to say we need more training and we need to attract more talent to the state. Is it possible the talent is already here, but is being ignored? It turns out, according to the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey, 5.9 percent of the Hoosiers between 18 and 64 who had jobs were disabled. That was about 175,000 disabled persons holding jobs or 36 percent of the 486,000 persons with disabilities in the state. In all, Indiana ranked 19th among the 50 states in percent of the total population classified as disabled. Our 13.9 percent disability rate is somewhat above the nation’s 12.5 percent, well below West Virginia’s 20.1, and above Utah’s 9.0 percent.
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  • Pence visits Auschwitz for first time
    “It seems to me to be a scene of unspeakable tragedy, reminding us what tyranny is capable of. But it seems to me also to be a scene of freedom’s victory. I traveled in our delegation with people who had family members who had been at Auschwitz — some had survived, some not. But to walk with them and think that two generations ago their forebears came there in box carts and that we would arrive in a motorcade in a free Poland and a Europe restored to freedom from tyranny is an extraordinary experience for us, and I’ll carry it with me the rest of our lives.” - Vice President Mike Pence, who visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland on Friday along with Second Lady Karen Pence and Polish President Andrzej Duda and First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda. It was Pence's first time at the scene where Nazi Germany murdered more than 1.1 million Jews and other groups during the World War II Holocaust.
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  • Our first national park at Indiana Dunes
    It continues to amaze me how many folks from central and southern Indiana have never visited Indiana's sea, known to most of us as Lake Michigan. If you need another reason to take a couple hour trip northward on U.S. 31, U.S. 421 or I-65, thank President Trump for our first national park. It's now the Indiana Dunes National Park. The move was included in the spending package compromise that Trump signed on Friday, inserted in the legislation with the help of U.S. Sen. Todd Young and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky. 

    Visclosky said, "I also am heartened that because of the support of our U.S. Senators, the entire Indiana Congressional delegation, and numerous Northwest Indiana organizations, we have successfully titled the first National Park in our state. This action provides our shoreline with the recognition it deserves, and I hope further builds momentum to improve open and public access to all of our region’s environmental wonders.”

    The Dunes includes white sand beaches, trails and an array of flora and bogs, with a front row seat to the Chicago skyline. It richly deserves to be Indiana's first national park.
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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