MARCUS: Hoosier employment deficit stands

Morton Marcus
February 12, 2011
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Morton Marcus

Last week’s column brought three spirits to my desk. First was the Spirit of Humanity, upset because I described the recession and recovery using numbers instead of people and concepts.

Next came the Spirit of Pertinence, indignant because my measure was compensation rather than jobs. Finally, the Spirit of Place fired a shot at my state-by-state analysis, which ignored the diversity among Indiana’s metropolitan areas.

To me, defective as I am, numbers offer specificity about people and concepts without the sentimentality of anecdote. To me, money is the issue. Few people labor for the glory of being employed; most people work for money. When they do not work, they have less to spend and less joy enters the homes of merchants. Thus, the first two spirits were told where they could go, and they left.

The third spirit hit its target, and this column is devoted to Indiana’s 16 metropolitan areas. I have no data, however, on compensation and will discuss instead the number of people employed.

Hoosiers with jobs at the end of 2010 totaled 260,000 fewer than four years earlier—the level necessary to regain the high ground we occupied before the recession. Those 260,000 equal an 8-percent work deficit. Bloomington’s metro area has a deficit of just 4 percent, while Elkhart struggles under a 23-percent deficit.

As the number of job-holders declined statewide, the number of people unemployed increased 136,000 (92-percent higher than at the end of 2006). In Evansville’s metro area, the number of unemployed grew a relatively modest 69 percent, compared with the 123-percent increase in Columbus.

How could 260,000 people lose employment and only 136,000 become unemployed? The answer: 124,000 Hoosiers left the labor force. Returning to pre-recession conditions demands not only reducing the number of unemployed, it means reattracting those who have moved on to other activities (retirement, living out-of state, returning to school or just sitting on the sidelines).

In Elkhart’s metro area, nearly three-quarters of those no longer employed left the labor force. In South Bend and Kokomo, the figure stands at 65 percent. Why are these numbers so high? It is not because of unemployment insurance. If you are not in the labor force, you cannot get unemployment compensation.

By contrast, in Lafayette and Indianapolis-Carmel, just a third of the job losers left the labor force, while in the Terre Haute and Jeffersonville-New Albany areas, the figure was 42 percent.

High rates of abandoning the labor force could be evidence of workers anticipating few job opportunities soon. Lower rates of labor-force departures (just 9 percent in Bloomington) may indicate more optimism about employment opportunities.

Leaving the labor force because of low expectations is called a discouraged-worker effect. It could be a knowledge effect, because the worker has rational expectations of the job market and knows when to sit out and wait. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counts people as discouraged if they are capable and willing to work, but have not looked for work during the last four weeks.

To see what this behavior means in terms of the unemployment rate, add the number of unemployed in 2010 to the labor force leavers (2006 to 2010) and divide by the 2006 labor force. Thus, we get a new Indiana unemployment rate of 12.6 percent, compared with the official 9.1 percent for December 2010. In the Elkhart metro area, this new unemployment rate skyrockets to 26.7 percent from 12.8 percent. Evansville climbs from a moderate 7.8 percent to 11.1 percent. Fort Wayne rises from 9.3 percent to 14.4 percent and the Gary area from 9.5 percent to 13.3 percent.

If numbers like these were being passed around, perhaps the unemployment situation would be taken more seriously by the business and community leaders who seem satisfied with our steady, but relaxed economic progress.•


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. Why not take some time to do some research before traveling to that Indiana town or city, and find the ones that are no smoking either inside, or have a patio? People like yourself are just being selfish, and unnecessarily trying to take away all indoor venues that smokers can enjoy themselves at. Last time I checked, it is still a free country, and businesses do respond to market pressure and will ban smoking, if there's enough demand by customers for it(i.e. Linebacker Lounge in South Bend, and Rack and Helen's in New Haven, IN, outside of Fort Wayne). Indiana law already unnecessarily forced restaurants with a bar area to be no smoking, so why not support those restaurants that were forced to ban smoking against their will? Also, I'm always surprised at the number of bars that chose to ban smoking on their own, in non-ban parts of Indiana I'll sometimes travel into. Whiting, IN(just southeast of Chicago) has at least a few bars that went no smoking on their own accord, and despite no selfish government ban forcing those bars to make that move against their will! I'd much rather have a balance of both smoking and non-smoking bars, rather than a complete bar smoking ban that'll only force more bars to close their doors. And besides IMO, there are much worser things to worry about, than cigarette smoke inside a bar. If you feel a bar is too smoky, then simply walk out and take your business to a different bar!

  2. As other states are realizing the harm in jailing offenders of marijuana...Indiana steps backwards into the script of Reefer Madness. Well...you guys voted for your Gov...up to you to vote him out. Signed, Citizen of Florida...the next state to have medical marijuana.

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  4. Apparently the settlement over Angie's List "bundling" charges hasn't stopped the practice! My membership is up for renewal, and I'm on my third email trying to get a "basic" membership rather than the "bundled" version they're trying to charge me for. Frustrating!!

  5. Well....as a vendor to both of these builders I guess I have the right to comment. Davis closed his doors with integrity.He paid me every penny he owed me. Estridge,STILL owes me thousands and thousands of dollars. The last few years of my life have been spent working 2 jobs, paying off the suppliers I used to work on Estridge jobs and just struggling to survive. Shame on you Paul...and shame on you IBJ! Maybe you should have contacted the hundreds of vendors that Paul stiffed. I'm sure your "rises from the ashes" spin on reporting would have contained true stories of real people who have struggled to find work and pay of their debts (something that Paul didn't even attempt to do).