Cousin Maribelle was in town and she takes no prisoners. “Tell me about Indiana,” she demanded.

“Oh,” I responded, “we’re a collection of small businesses in small and mid-sized cities, living in harmony with nature.”

“You’re a foul, polluted cistern in the industrial heartland. And you’ve less small business than that of the nation,” she sneered.

I objected. “Fully, 63% of establishments where Hoosiers work have fewer than 20 employees.”

Maribelle made a gargoyle face. “That figure is over 70% nationally. Worse, Indiana firms have 183 workers for every 100 establishments. Nationally the figure is 158. That smells like an excess of labor to me.”

“Well,” I paused, like Pres. Reagan, trying to think my way through this. “Must be we have tougher jobs that require more workers. You’ve seen the saying on the wall of the State Office Building, ‘A state that works.’”

Now Maribelle did something very strange, she laughed. “Yes, and a rational person would ask, ‘works for whom?’

Now my blood began to boil. “Anyway that sign is gone now. It’s been replaced by ‘Indiana for the Bold.’”

This broke her up. When she caught her breath, she said, “Yes, for the bold and the old. Bold enough to stay and earn 82% of what the typical private sector American earns. Even the highly paid workers in Indiana establishments with more 5,000 employees, average $59,184, again just 82% of the average ($72,386) for similarly placed workers in the U.S.

“And don’t forget,” she added, “in 60 of your 92 counties, the median age is over 40 years. It peaks in good old Brown County where more than half the population is over 50, just a rockin’ ‘n’ awaitin’ for da Great Come-and-Get-It Day.”

“That’s mean-spirited,” I cried out.

“Be that as it may,” Maribelle replied. “Hoosiers see ghosts when they talk about your economy. They’ll argue about how important agriculture is to the state, largely because farming is so visible and of great consequence in antiquity.”

“You are on dangerous ground there, Cousin,” I warned her.

“Right,” she said. “I’ve heard that if you eat, you’re part of agriculture. But then, if you have to relieve yourself, you’re part of plumbing.”

Now she was rolling and unstoppable. “What else do I hear? They talk about manufacturing, as another ghost, dead or in decline.”

“Get to the point,” I demanded.

“It’s so simple, it’s embarrassing,” she said. “Manufacturing in Indiana is 22% of business payrolls with 18% of the jobs. Nationally, it’s 9.5% of payrolls and 9.1% of jobs.”

“So? I said.

“So, more Hoosiers need to think about the housing and health care needs of our times. Those will be satisfied more and more by materials for building and for monitoring health conditions. That’s where Indiana is going.”

And with that she was gone.
Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. His column appears in Indiana newspapers, and his views can be followed his podcast.

© 2024 Morton J. Marcus