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MARCUS: How much do workers want to earn?

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Morton Marcus

Morton MarcusRegular readers know I’m a numbers guy. Give me a set of data and I can be happily occupied for hours. Sometimes I am distressed by numbers. Recently, I discovered that the manufacturers of men’s clothing inflated the sizes of jackets and trousers so one might think that I am now wider and shorter than I was just a few years ago. But I will not trouble you with my nominal size changes.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development today does a much better job of providing the public with data that it did in the past. A simple visit to Hoosiers by the Numbers on the DWD website is a data junkie’s joy. Where else can you find what unemployed Hoosier workers seek in wages, by county?

This is possible because job applicants record their wage expectations on DWD computers and these are averaged by county. Thus we find that the average annual expectation of Hamilton County workers is the highest in the state, at $36,799. No surprise there. Yet who would have thought that Wells County (Bluffton) would be second, at $35,556? Or Wabash County fourth, at $34,732? The most modest expected wages were in Jay, Knox, Owen and Greene counties—each under $20,000 per year. The average for Marion County was $28,792.

Unfortunately, DWD calls the data “wage demand.” It would seem they did not get the website checked for political sensitivity. Isn’t the term “demand” usually reserved for a hostile press describing what unions seek? No one talks about the grocery demanding a particular price for corn flakes or Pepsi demanding so much for two liters of their product. Does your gas station’s posted price constitute a demand? I am sure someone at DWD will change that wording soon.

Less comforting is the fact that the latest data posted were for June 2008. These data should be up to date to be of value to employers and workers alike. DWD claims that, “Each week, we examine the pool of applicants who are registered in [the DWD computerized system]. Applicants define their wage expectations for the work they desire. An average wage demand is calculated for the selected geographic area.” Hence, we might have hopes that the data would be updated more frequently for the public website.

I am confident that DWD will examine this as closely as they do other statistical issues. For example, how is it that the median wage sought in 50 of the 92 Indiana counties is reported as $20,800? That seems an unlikely condition, but I may not understand the intricacies that abound here.

However, let’s not be picky. This is an extraordinary source of information, as are most files at DWD. With this sort of information, we could track how wage expectations change over time, as the unemployment rate for the county changes, and as the duration of unemployment changes for individuals. Where DWD has data on the wage finally accepted by the worker, the expected and realized values could be compared, which could have a feedback effect on other workers.

Almost every state and local agency has data that can be mined more effectively than at present. In some cases getting more from existing data can be costly, but often the costs are small, requiring just a little imagination and a pinch to the seat of government.•
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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. Can your dog sign a marriage license or personally state that he wishes to join you in a legal union? If not then no, you cannot marry him. When you teach him to read, write, and speak a discernible language, then maybe you'll have a reasonable argument. Thanks for playing!

  2. Look no further than Mike Rowe, the former host of dirty jobs, who was also a classically trained singer.

  3. Current law states income taxes are paid to the county of residence not county of income source. The most likely scenario would be some alteration of the income tax distribution formula so money earned in Marion co. would go to Marion Co by residents of other counties would partially be distributed to Marion co. as opposed to now where the entirety is held by the resident's county.

  4. This is more same-old, same-old from a new generation of non-progressive 'progressives and fear mongers. One only needs to look at the economic havoc being experienced in California to understand the effect of drought on economies and people's lives. The same mindset in California turned a blind eye to the growth of population and water needs in California, defeating proposal after proposal to build reservoirs, improve water storage and delivery infrastructure...and the price now being paid for putting the demands of a raucous minority ahead of the needs of many. Some people never, never learn..

  5. I wonder if I can marry him too? Considering we are both males, wouldn't that be a same sex marriage as well? If they don't honor it, I'll scream discrimination just like all these people have....

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