“Is it true that Indiana’s economy has turned around?” Strudel Morceaux, a junior journalist asked.
“I cannot answer that question.” I said.
“What?” Strudel ex-claimed. “You’re the economist and you don’t know what’s hap-pening with Indiana’s economy?”
“What,” I asked, “is Indiana’s economy?”
“Now you’re playing mind games,” Strudel objected.
“Indiana’s economy is measured in different ways and judged in still other ways,” I elaborated. “For many people, an economy is doing well if it is adding jobs. For others, an economy’s performance is judged by its unemployment rate. Those are only two of many measures.”
“Enough,” Strudel said, beginning to flake.
“Indiana’s latest unemployment rate was 10 percent for the second consecutive month,” I offered. “That’s not satisfactory, but better than the 10.6 percent of a year ago. The decline in the number of people employed that lasted nearly two years seems over. From February 2008 through last December, Indiana had a decline of 284,500 workers holding jobs.
“Then, in the first five months of this year, Indiana enjoyed an increase of 23,100 people employed. This represents just an 8-percent recovery—not quite enough to set off firecrackers.”
“So,” Strudel said confidently, “we’ve hit bottom and the turnaround is in progress.”
“There is reason to say that,” I said. “When we look at jobs, rather than employed people, … .”
“Hold it!” Strudel cried. “Every job is filled by a person.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “but many people hold more than one job. Jobs are not equal to the number of people working. Plus, some Hoosiers work outside Indiana and some Indiana jobs are held by people living beyond the Hoosier frontiers.”
“Piffle,” Strudel said, dismissing the distinction.
“Possibly piffle,” I conceded. “Yet it explains why the number of jobs and number of employed people are different. Nonetheless, let me continue.
“Every month from March 2008 to April of this year, the number of jobs in Indiana was less than in the same month a year earlier. You might say we hit bottom in June 2009, when the number of jobs fell to 201,400 fewer than in June 2008. Since then, that difference has been shrinking. Now, in May, for the first time in 27 months, the number of Hoosier jobs exceeded the level of a year earlier.
“The truly good news is that, for nearly two years, stretching back to the spring of 2008, the number of jobs in Indiana fell by 229,400. Since the start of this year, we’ve added 53,200 jobs, a recovery of nearly a quarter of our lost jobs.”
“Then you’ll agree that we’re on the road back,” Strudel said triumphantly.
“No,” I said. “I want to know that average wages are rising for Hoosiers. I want evidence that government revenue is increasing and that more money is being spent on the necessities of life—things like education, transportation, communications and public health. It won’t do us any good to meet the usual demand for Halloween costumes if we’re not investing in our future.”
“You just won’t accept the good news, will you?” Strudel said angrily.
“Right,” I said. “We have a long-term deficit of responsible spending in this state. The restoration of things as they were will not lead to a productive, competitive economy tomorrow. Patting ourselves on the back because we moved part-way back from a business-cycle low is deceptive and cynical; it might be acceptable from a political candidate, but not appropriate from you as a serious observer of our state’s economy.”
“I’m sorry I asked,” Strudel said. “I was just looking for a quick quote.”•
Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.