IBJOpinion

MARCUS: Fewer Hoosier children means less retail

Morton Marcus
March 12, 2011
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Morton Marcus

We were prepared for Indiana’s mediocre results from the 2010 census. Our population growth (6.6 percent) over the decade 2000 to 2010 ranked 31st in the nation. We could celebrate being not too far from the top of the bottom half of the states.

What brought joy to the Hoosier hearth was the news that we topped Wisconsin’s 6.0-percent growth, Illinois’ 3.3, Ohio’s 1.6, and pitiful Michigan’s decline (-0.6 percent). Doing better than one’s poor neighbors stands as a weak triumph.

If anything rattled our teeth, it was the concentration of growth in Marion and four adjacent counties (Hamilton, Hendricks, Johnson and Hancock). These five counties alone captured more than 53 percent of the state’s growth. Of the remaining 87 counties, 29 lost population. The biggest losers in number of people were Grant (Marion), Howard (Kokomo), Wayne (Richmond), Wabash (Wabash) and Cass (Logansport) counties. Blackford County (Hartford City), at -9.1 percent, had the largest decline relative to the state.

Relative growth (or decline) does matter. What’s good for the Indianapolis metropolitan area is now better than before for all of Indiana. As the Indianapolis metro area approaches 26 percent of the state’s population, who is losing out? Even though Lake County gained 11,400 people and Vanderburgh gained 7,800, neither kept pace with the state’s growth rate. These two counties, along with Madison, Delaware, LaPorte and Vigo, emerged from the last decade as relative losers in the population derby.

After the Legislature completes redistricting next month, more members of the Indiana General Assembly than before will have the Indianapolis area on their minds. When the state allocates goodies according to population, the outlands will get a lesser share. Business activity, particularly health and financial services, will concentrate still more where people are most numerous.

Hidden in all these data lies a truth that may be of great significance. From 2000 to 2010, the adult population of the state grew faster (8.2 percent) than the population under age 18 (2.2 percent). Indiana added 369,400 adults, compared with just 33,900 children, a ratio of nearly 11 to 1. This imbalance was hardly uniform, but its consequences are important for all of us.

When more data are released, we’ll know the full story, but we can already identify important patterns. In only 24 of our 92 counties did both the adult and child populations increase. For example, Clark County added 13,000 people, of whom 11,000 were adults and just 2,000 were children. In 68 counties, however, the number of children declined.

Children, as any parent will attest, are the drivers of our economy. They cause the washing machine and dryer to be bought. They necessitate the larger, safer automobile. Simply put, children are the creators of debt and increased consumption spending.

Fewer children reduce retail trade. Schools acquire empty rooms and playgrounds see less Little League ball played. Neighbors are less inclined to know one another in the absence of children. Communities, as we have known them, change. Some crumble, others manage an awkward transformation to residential areas with limited liveliness.

The economic prospects of communities with fewer children are poor. Where youth initiates change, adults often succumb to the temptations of the familiar. It is difficult to convince town elders that more opportunities for social engagement are necessary to sustain commercial vitality. Carmel, with its new theaters and concert facilities, may be the best example in Indiana of a smaller city’s becoming a place for adults.•

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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 mmarcus@ibj.com.

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  1. I think the poster was being sarcastic and only posting or making fun of what is usually posted on here about anything being built in BR or d'town for that matter.

  2. Great news IRL fans: TURBO the IMS sanctioned movie about slugs running the Indy 500 has caught the Securities and Exchange Commission because Dreamworks had to take a $132MILLION write down...because the movie was such a flop. See, the Indy/IMS magic soiled another pair of drawers. Bwahahahahahaha! How's CARTOWN doing? HAHAHAHA...Indy is for losers.

  3. So disappointed in WIBC. This is the last straw to lose a good local morning program. I used to be able to rely on WIBC to give me good local information, news, weather and traffic on my 45 minute commute.Two incidents when I needed local, accurate information regarding severe weather were the first signs I could not now rely on WIBC. I work weekend 12 hour nights for a downtown hospital. This past winter when we had the worst snowfall in my 50 years of life, I came home on a Sunday morning, went to sleep (because I was to go back in Sunday night for another 12 hour shift), and woke up around 1 p.m. to a house with no electricity. I keep an old battery powered radio around and turned on WIBC to see what was going on with the winter storm and the roads and the power outage. Sigh. Only policital stuff. Not even a break in to update on the winter storm warning. The second weather incident occurred when I was driving home during a severe thunderstorm a few months ago. I had already gotten a call from my husband that a tornado warning was just southwest of where I had been. I turned to WIBC to find out what direction the storm was headed so I could figure out a route home, only to find Rush on the air, and again, no breaking away from this stupidity to give me information. Thank God for my phone, which gave me the warning that I was driving in an area where a tornado was seen. Thanks for nothing WIBC. Good luck to you, Steve! We need more of you and not the politics of hatred that WIBC wants to shove at us. Good thing I have Satellite radio.

  4. I read the retail roundup article and tried Burritos and Beers tonight. I'm glad I did, for the food was great. Fresh authentic Mexican food. Great seasoning on the carne asada. A must try!!! Thanks for sharing.

  5. John, unfortunately CTRWD wants to put the tank(s) right next to a nature preserve and at the southern entrance to Carmel off of Keystone. Not exactly the kind of message you want to send to residents and visitors (come see our tanks as you enter our city and we build stuff in nature preserves...

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