INDIANAPOLIS - The new green is on the trees and the forest floor in front of me. Vibrant blues and startling yellows burst from hidden recesses in the leaves of last year. And Faye of the Forest is perched on the deck railing beyond my window.
It’s raining, but she sits there, adjusting her hair, inspecting her nails, and smiling. I step to the open door and ask, “What are you smiling about?”
“Why not?” she asks in return. “It’s a lovely day leading to an energizing season.”
“Energizing? Agonizing,” I counter. “Don’t you realize millions of young Americans in high schools and colleges are talking to counselors or searching the web to find out what different jobs in different places pay?”
“Yes,” Faye’s smile expands. “Youth setting out on uncertain paths. How romantic.”
“About as romantic as patches of poison ivy along their path,” I reply.
“Oh, don’t worry,” she cautions. “They’ll find their way.”
“Perhaps,” I pause. “Have they been prepared to understand the difference between means and medians?”
“What are you talking about?” she laughs.
“Exactly!” I shout. “Do the counselors know the difference? Do the websites explain the data they display?”  
No answer, so I continue. “The average or mean annual pay for a job in Indiana is $45,290 (35th in the nation). The mean figure reflects the higher paying jobs. But the more realistic figure is $35,730 or the median pay (37th in the U.S.) which tells us that half of our Hoosier jobs pay more than that amount while half pay less.”
“Yes,” Faye concedes. “Young people could be confused and misled by that difference. But there’s nothing new in that. We’ve known it for years.”
“Agreed,” I agree. “But do our young job seekers and their counselors know that entry-level Hoosier jobs put you on a lower track than jobs elsewhere?”
“How do you know that?” Faye asks.
“The spread between the mean pay in Indiana and the median pay approaches $9,600 (27%), but nationally it is over $13,300 (34%),” is my response.
“But that doesn’t matter,” she objects. “The cost of living in Indiana is less than many places with higher pay.”
“Oh, no! You too?” I cry.
“Are you saying that isn’t true?” she demands.
“It’s true, but irrelevant,” I assert. “What you earn determines how much you can pay for housing. Your pay is set by your employer based on the value you create for the company. We live in international markets. Thus, many of us are paid based on the value of our products or services in those markets.
“If you were paid more, you could afford more housing. It’s your pay that counts, not the prices landlords and homebuilders want to charge you.”
Faye looks at me as if I were a museum exhibit. “I don’t have to believe that,” she says and drifts away on a cool breeze.
Mr. Marcus is an economist. Reach him at Follow his views and those of John Guy on “Who gets what?” wherever podcasts are available or at