INDIANAPOLIS  — Just a few more weeks and we’ll be in 2020. Incumbent office holders will discover numbers showing we are better off than four years earlier. The out-of-office wannabes will have their data showing we are worse off. How can both be telling the truth? As economists love to say, “It all depends…”
What data are you using, Indiana in a national or regional context? Real per capita personal income, a favorite measure of some political leaders, shows Indiana with an average annual increase of 1.82%, between the second quarters of 2015 and 2019, after adjustment for inflation.
The United States grew by 2.12%. That “little” 0.30% average annual difference is worth $575 for each Indiana resident in 2019 dollars. That’s if we were just “average” instead of 29th in the nation.

But let’s put this in a regional context and we’ll see if Indiana shines as bright as that moon over the Wabash. The Great Lakes region includes Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin, along with Indiana. The region as a whole saw real per capita personal income rise of 1.89%.

Sad to say, only Ohio at 1.80% came in lower than our 1.87% growth rate. But, take heart! Kentucky managed only a 1.36% average rate. As you know, any time we beat out Kentucky, Hoosiers are winners.

Then, we’ll consider the growth in the average wage per job. We know the state and local economic development folks have been working hard to raise the wages of Hoosier workers. Here we’ll have to put up with annual data from 2014 to 2018, but that’s the way it is with statistics, you have to work with what you have.

The average wage per job in Indiana in 2018 was $55,600 (27th highest in the U.S.), but higher than Kentucky’s $50,682 (ranking 42nd). Unfortunately, the four other Great Lakes states all enjoyed higher average wages. There’s no point in mentioning the U.S. figure was $62,321.

What about the growth rate for average wages from ’15 to ’18? Indiana was at 1.63%, short of the U.S. at 1.76%, but higher than Kentucky and Illinois, yet below Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Our strength, then, must be adding to the number of jobs. Just about every business day, new and existing Indiana firms feed the media with announcements of job growth. But the data from September 2015 to the same month in 2019 shows Indiana with an average annual growth rate of 1.00% in jobs while the nation had a 1.62% rate.

We failed. After looking at three key indicators of economic advancement, we didn’t find evidence that Indiana is a hot bed of growth. No doubt others will find the rainbow we missed, particularly if they are paid for their efforts. 

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