Editorial: Community needs to act to on income inequality problems

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The data released this month by the Brookings Institution about the gap between those who are thriving in central Indiana and those who aren’t was disturbing but not surprising.

While the Indianapolis metro area is performing fairly well when it comes to increasing prosperity compared to other top U.S. cities, it’s near the bottom when it comes to those people on the lower end of the economic ladder.

The report, which IBJ’s Hayleigh Colombo detailed in a story at IBJ.com, finds that the Indianapolis area ranked poorly on Brookings’ “inclusion index,” which attempts to measure how lower-income residents are doing compared with higher-income residents.

Indianapolis’ performance “seems to indicate the presence of a two-tier economy in the region,” one of the report’s authors, Alan Berube, told Colombo.

Indy Chamber has been sounding the alarm bell about this problem for more than a year.

In an IBJ column last June, Indy Chamber President Michael Huber joined with Brookings’ Amy Liu to warn that “demographic change means groups historically disconnected from prosperity will make up a growing share of the labor force.”

“Communities like Indianapolis cannot afford to watch idly as more of their human capital drifts further into isolation from the job market and productive economy,” they wrote.

That’s important. Addressing the problems of the shrinking middle class and those struggling in lower-paying jobs is not just about altruism. It’s also about growing a stronger economy for all of central Indiana.

Local companies—be they big corporations or small startups—need a strong talent pool from which to draw their workers. State and local governments need a healthy tax base from which to pull revenue to keep the region’s infrastructure—roads, mass transit, internet access and more—strong enough for business. And the region needs residents who invest time, money and energy into their homes, their schools and their community at large.

None of that can happen when a large percentage of the population is economically drowning.

The key for the region is viewing the problem through the workforce lens. It’s why IBJ has been running a series called “One City, Worlds Apart,” which is written and reported by Colombo with data and research by Jill Doyle.

The series has given voice to people who are struggling to get ahead while improving their neighborhoods. It has examined how wealth has plummeted in ZIP codes a short walk from affluent neighborhoods. The series told the story of a family that remains homeless although the breadwinners are employed. And it has uncovered racial disparities in income and social mobility.

On March 26, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing honored the “One City, Worlds Apart” series with its top award in the economics category for small publications. We salute Colombo and Doyle for their hard work.

But what has driven us to craft more than a dozen stories, editorials and podcasts about the issue is a desire to persuade business leaders that this is a problem the entire community must come together to tackle. That’s what the Indy Chamber is striving to do as well and we know leaders there have initiatives yet to announce.

Let’s view the Brookings data not as a problem but as an opportunity, and let’s harness this moment to do something about it.•


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