INDIANAPOLIS - Nelson Pneumatic, local chair of Nerds for Numbers, called me late last week. “I’ve got great news,” he said. “Indiana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew faster in the second quarter of 2018 than GDP did nationwide.”
“Wow,” I replied. “Did you tell the Governor’s office? They’ll want to issue a proclamation.”
“I’ll do that later,” he said. “I wanted you to know first so you can start baking some humble pie. It shows the General Assembly is the ever-wise entity that, by lowering business taxes, is working for working Hoosiers.”
“By how much did we beat out the other 49 states?” I asked.
“Oh,” Nelson sighed. “You won’t see the glory of Indiana as reflected in the data.”
I repeated my question.
“Well,” he hesitated. “The national rate of growth was 1.9 percent, but Indiana topped that at 2.0 percent.”
“You’re telling me Indiana’s triumph was 0.1 percent,” I laughed. “That just statistical sliver.”
“Well,” he countered, “that sliver was equal to $371 million of the state’s $369 billion GDP.”
“Ok,” I tried to slip over that one. “Where did we rank among the 50 states?”
“We ranked 16th in GDP growth rate,” Nelson was triumphant. “And Indiana also exceeded the national GDP growth rate for the year-over-year period, second quarter ’17 to the same quarter ’18.”
“Wonderful,” I tried to sound enthusiastic. “And what were those figures?”
Silence. After a few unnatural moments he said, “5.4 percent for the nation and 5.6 for Indiana, without adjustment for inflation.”
“Oh,” I said. “So for the year, we’re 0.2 percent up on the nation. Impressive!”
“Spoil-sport,” was Nelson’s retort.
“Now,” I said trying to move along. “About the Indiana legislature ‘working for working Hoosiers?’ In the second quarter of 2018, compensation of employees was down to 51.5 percent of the state’s GDP from 52.2 percent two years earlier. We’re in 38th place, below the nation’s 52.8 percent, well behind the leaders (Vermont, Minnesota, Maine, and Missouri), all at 57 percent or better.
“Isn’t that what counts?” I continued. “State GDP adds up the value Hoosier workers create, but they’re getting a declining share of GDP.”
“Workers are less important as machines and software replace human muscle and experience,” he answered. “It’s nothing more than a continuation of the industrial revolution that started in the 18th century.”
”Yes,” I agreed. “Unions made a difference in manufacturing wages and benefits. However, we still undervalue the work done by most workers. We’re a century behind in our thinking about what’s important.  
I continued: “Look at Indiana manufacturing. It’s 14.2 percent of the jobs, earning 23.0 percent of compensation. The average earnings in manufacturing in 2017 was $77,235, more than double the $42,781 average for non-manufacturing.”
“So you’d pay manufacturing workers less,” Nelson concluded.
“No,” I said, “I’d rather see non-manufacturing workers paid more.”
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