EYE ON THE PIE: Where have Hoosier jobs gone?

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“You’re that guy,” she said.

“Yeah, I’m that guy,” I confirmed.

“How’d ya like some numbers? You

can do with them whatcha want,” she said with an intonation that made the opportunity sound pornographic. “I just picked them out of the trash right here at the Department of Workforce Development. They’re fresh and pretty clean.”

“How much?” I asked.

“Enough for lunch,” Dorothy replied.

“Deal,” I said, and we made an exchange of paper money for data on paper.

There it was. A neat, complete analysis of Indiana’s employment history, month by month, from January 1990 to May of this year, all seasonally adjusted. Yummy. Better than a butter pecan ice cream cone.

For example, in January 1990, Indiana had 2.3 percent of the nation’s jobs. Now, it is down to 2.2 percent. Doesn’t sound like much, but it is actually a deficit of more than 131,000 jobs. If we had kept pace with the United States over this period, that is, if we had been just average or mediocre, we would have 4.4-percent more jobs in Indiana today.

In the latest business cycle, Indiana hit a peak in employment in May 2000 at 3.01 million jobs. The U.S. peak came nine months later. Thus, while we were losing jobs for a human gestation period, the nation was still gaining jobs.

Indiana’s job losses continued until July 2003, by which time we had lost 4.4 percent of our jobs. The nation’s job losses were just 2.0 percent, extending over a 30-month period, ending in August 2003. Hence, Indiana went into the recession earlier than the country as a whole, stayed on a downward track for a longer time, and had a job-loss rate more than twice that of the United States overall.

Since our low point in July 2003, Indiana has regained 93,900 jobs, or 71 percent of the total jobs lost. In contrast, the nation has recovered its entire job loss plus has expanded its employment another 2.6 million. Today, as Indiana stands at 1.3 percent below its May 2000 peak, the country is 1.9 percent ahead of its previous high.

The Hoosier state has a long way to go before returning to where we were a few years ago. It’s six years now since we started our decline and, with a recovery in progress for half that span, we are still struggling to find jobs.

Dorothy stood looking at me, joy spreading over her face. I did not know if it was because she enjoyed my interest in the numbers or because she was contemplating her lavish lunch.

“Good stuff,” she said, not asking but telling me. “Explains all the hoopla over Honda. We need every job we can get and it doesn’t matter if it’s automotive, hightech, low-tech, no-tech. Jobs mean hope. People with jobs don’t push all their belongings along in shopping carts.”

As she ambled down the street I thought, “Most people with shopping carts don’t rummage in the trash at DWD.”

Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.

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