IBJOpinion

MARCUS: Only tell the good news; why excite people?

Morton Marcus
October 30, 2010
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Morton Marcus

You have to love them—the professional spinners, public and private. These are not the public relations people who work for large companies and government agencies. No. These are the corporate leaders and the public officials who listen to the PR people. Makes a person wonder if there is anyone in these companies or agencies charged with telling the truth to the powerful, let alone the public.

Take an example: Mark Everson is the commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. I don’t know if he and I have met and I intend no discourtesy to him. He is only following the great tradition of his predecessors: Tell the good news; if you know an ugly truth, keep it in your hip pocket so you can sit on it.

DWD puts out a monthly news release on the employment situation in Indiana. The most recent issue (Oct. 22) quotes Everson as saying, “On a year-to-date basis, Indiana continues to be a leader in private-sector job growth.” Right. That’s the truth.

However, just below that statement, some DWD troll has placed a devilish bar chart. This image clearly shows Indiana’s private-sector job growth declining in three of the last four months and six of the past 12 months. While we continue to be a leader in private-sector job growth, it is also true, but apparently not worth noting, that things have not been going too well lately.

But, as they say on TV, wait! There’s more!

On the same news release, but not attributed to the commissioner, is the statement that “Indiana and its neighbors, except Michigan, report statistically even unemployment rates.” The line refers to a table in which Indiana, Ohio and Michigan had 0.1-percent declines in their unemployment rates from August to September this year. Possibly the author meant to highlight Kentucky, which had a 0.1-percent increase in its unemployment rate.

Well, Michigan, Kentucky, what’s the difference in the long run? Although it may not matter to the author, it does suggest that no one proofread the news release carefully. Does the president-presumptive care about sloppiness in his primary agency for economic statistics? Will he tolerate that when he resides on Pennsylvania Avenue?

Of course, in a society where we are told “Don’t sweat the little stuff” and to say “yes!” to ourselves on the inevitable route to success and glory, such matters don’t matter.

What’s surprising is that the same troll again slipped in some less-than-good news. Indiana’s unemployment rate in September this year was unchanged from a year earlier. The U.S. rate was down 0.2 percent; Kentucky and Ohio saw their rates fall 0.7 percent; Illinois’ rate was down 0.9 percent, and Michigan drew the grand prize with a 1.4-percent decline.

Thus, while all these areas were improving, Indiana, that leader in private-sector job growth, saw no change in its unemployment rate. Funny how that was not mentioned in the DWD news release.

The Department of Workforce Development is the most important source of current information on Indiana’s economy. It should be run in the interests of the people and businesses of Indiana. Yet under every administration in the past 40 years, it has progressively become a shameless tool of political mischief. It feeds the truth through a fine filter. It fails to explore and utilize its vast database in the public interest.  

The DWD budget is provided largely by the federal government. Whenever there is a fiscal squeeze, DWD cuts back on its statistical services and has virtually eliminated its analytical capabilities.

If I am wrong, someone from DWD will let me know.•

__________

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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