Gov. Mike Pence, like Mitch Daniels before him, likes to brag on how great Indiana’s economy is doing. He talks about the jobs and new businesses and, to hear him, you’d think it was happy days are here again in the Hoosier state.
It’s funny, though. If you travel outside Indianapolis and its suburban counties, where the building never seems to stop, it appears things haven’t changed that much.
According to the National Association of Counties, that’s because the Great Recession is still hanging on in most Indiana counties.
The NAC used data gathered by Moody’s Analytics to see how the nation’s 3,069 counties were doing compared to where they stood before the 2008 recession. They looked at things like employment levels, economic output and median home prices.
And when they looked at Indiana, they found that most of the state’s counties are still lagging behind where they were seven years ago, when the recession began.
Although Gov. Pence is correct when he says the statewide unemployment rate is currently lower than the national average, employment in most Indiana counties is still not where it was in 2007.
Only seven Indiana counties — Clark, Elkhart, Gibson, LaGrange, Marshall, Steuben and Vanderburgh — have gotten back to pre-recession levels for all indicators tracked by the NAC.
It is worth recalling that while Indiana was showing signs of renewed economic life before the Great Recession, it was hardly experiencing a boom. Although Mitch Daniels had achieved the Republicans’ holy grail of a balanced state budget, he would never keep his most ambitious campaign promise and succeed at raising Hoosier incomes.
This failure remains the catch-22 of Indiana economics. Gov. Pence can brag about jobs, but those jobs don’t pay truly middle-class wages. People are working, but they’re not making as much, which means that the state isn’t bringing in as much as it should in taxes. Without those taxes, state services and infrastructure suffer. The increasingly deplorable condition of our roads and bridges can serve here as Exhibit A.
Pence and the Republican majorities in the Statehouse would have us believe that the fact most Indiana counties have yet to reach pre-2008 economic levels is due somehow to federal government overreach, that if Indiana was left to its own devices — cutting taxes, dismantling state services, and getting rid of regulations — everything would be swell.
But that’s always been the Indiana way. When a high school drop-out could earn good money in a factory job making windshield wipers, it seemed to work.
Those days ended decades ago. Yet the state’s political bosses keep acting as if the same, low-rent approach will produce a new result.
Imagine if instead of bragging about low-wage jobs, the governor could boast about our educational system, the extent to which Indiana was weaning itself from coal in favor of sustainable energy technologies, the impact on public health of our clean air and water, and our 21st century transportation infrastructure.
This would be a different place. And our economy would show it.