ECONOMIC ANALYSIS: Revised data shows state faring better than thought

March 20, 2006

If you were watching this space to see what-if any-silver lining for Indiana could be found in the harsh blows about to fall on the high pay, full benefit, Big Three automaker production jobs I promised to talk about last week, I ask your forbearance. The Toyota Corp. has beaten me to the punch.

The company's announcement that it plans to build its top-selling Camry in Lafayette says it better than any words I could come up with. The future of Indiana motor vehicle manufacturing-and there most definitely is a future-lies in making as much lemonade out of the lemons being served up to us by the volatile marketplace as possible.

That leaves me free to talk about another breaking news story on the Indiana economy that I suspect you haven't yet heard about. The Department of Workforce Development just made available revisions to the monthly employment and wage data for Indiana and its major cities for the last two years. The new data incorporate the more complete wage and salary information from unemployment insurance records that don't become available until several months' time passes.

It's a breaking story for those of us who closely track the state economy, at least. We have learned from experience that the surveys used to estimate the most recent data on state economic performance can-through no fault of the hard-working folks at DWD who carry them out-produce a misleading picture of our economic health.

And with every step the state economy takes toward becoming a more diversified, more specialized, services producer, the revisions seem to become more substantial. A pattern has emerged where the preliminary data understate the growth in services employment-particularly in Indianapolis-leaving it for the revisions to pick up the strength in hiring when they finally arrive.

That pattern has continued, if slightly abated, in this latest data release. The weakness shown in the most recent Indiana monthly job totals-up a scant 0.2 percent in January from year-ago levels, according to the preliminary data-has been recast to show considerably more strength. The revisions put the state's job growth at a more healthy 1.3 percent over the 12-month period.

That's not exactly booming job growth, but compared with the 1.6-percent increase in national payrolls experienced over the same period, it's not nearly as bad as was originally portrayed. And for most Indiana major cities, the news is even better. Of the 14 metropolitan areas around the state tracked by DWD, only one-Kokomo-had fewer jobs in January 2006 than in the same month a year earlier.

The source of that newly found strength was diffused across different cities, and different industries, but a major contribution was made by Indianapolis in general, and services employment in particular.

The state's largest metro area went from virtually no job growth as reported in the preliminary data, to 1.5-percent growth in the 12-month period ending in January after revision. And the biggest swing in producing that result was, as in past years, an upwardly revised 4,500 net new jobs produced by Indianapolis employers in professional business services industries.

The book on Indiana's economic performance last year will have to remain open until late this summer, when revised data for the second half of the year are expected to arrive. But the generally upward revisions to the job data for the first half of 2005 have already recast growth as only slightly below the U.S. average, and above that of most of our Midwest neighbors.

By that time, we will be worried about other things, including the economic outlook for 2007. But like wine, we should let the data on state and metro area job growth age a bit before we act on what it tells us.

Barkey is an economist and director of economic and policy study at the College of Business, Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached by e-mail at pbarkey@ibj.com.
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