Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

April 20, 2014

Truth is often unwelcome

By Morton Marcus
Syndicated columnist

---- — Jim Feelwright greeted me warmly as I entered the room: “Well, here he is, Mr. Negative.”

Since it was a friendly meeting, I borrowed a famous line from the movies: “You can’t handle the truth.”

“You,” he said, “just don’t want to see what’s really happening in our state.”

“No,” I responded, “you’re the one who reads the Happy News spewed by politicians and boosters. I look at the data and what I see is dim.”

“We’re doing just great,” Jim said. “New businesses opening all the time, and existing firms expanding all over the state.”

“So,” I asked, “you’ll agree the recession is over?”

“Absolutely over for Indiana,” he asserted, “because we have a great business climate.”

“Then how do you explain the fact,” I asked, “that average monthly private sector jobs in Indiana for 2013, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, were nearly 2 percent (49,200) below the pre-recession 2007 level? Our population is growing and we have fewer jobs than six years earlier?

“Further,” I pressed, “our average weekly earnings, for those on wages and salaries in the private sector, were up only 8 percent (about $59).”

“Not bad, if you’re asking me,” Jim replied.

“Not bad, if you’re forgetting inflation was 12 percent during that period,” I said. “The average Hoosier worker saw wages fall by almost $30 per week in buying power over those six years.”

“Small change,” Jim said.

“Maybe at your income level in your community,” I said.

“Don’t get personal,” Jim objected.

“It is personal,” I insisted. “Where you live and what you earn in Indiana says much about what you think of Indiana. In the Columbus, Lafayette and Indianapolis-Carmel metropolitan areas, the number of jobs increased. But in every one of the other 13 metro areas, which include Hoosier counties, the number of jobs has not recovered to pre-recession levels.”

“That’s only temporary,” Jim Feelwright said, backing away from me. “The trend is up.”

“True,” I confirmed, “but for too many households the trend does not put food on the table. In only five lucky metro areas have average weekly earnings topped their 2007 levels. These five include Columbus and Lafayette, plus Gary, South Bend-Mishawaka and Louisville. Those last three, however, are still on the negative side in jobs.”

“That’s what I said to begin with,” Jim retraced his steps toward me. “You’re always looking at the negative.”

“Negative?” I was almost shouting. “I’ll give you negative. Elkhart-Goshen is off by 10,600 jobs (8.8 percent) while Michigan City-La Porte is down by 4,400 jobs (11.2 percent).

“I told you about five Hoosier areas where earnings are up by at least the rise in prices. That leaves six areas where earnings gains were wiped out by inflation. And another five (Muncie, Bloomington, Michigan City-La Porte, Anderson and Kokomo) where there were no gains in earnings at all, and inflation was an added blow to those communities.”

“Are you done?” Jim asked. I nodded and he said, “Have a nice day.”

Morton Marcus is an economist, writer, and speaker who may be reached at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.