Morton J. Marcus, an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University

"It's jobs, jobs, jobs," presidential and gubernatorial candidates shouted last week in Indiana.  And the crowds responded in the affirmative, urging the candidates to promise more jobs for more Hoosiers.

OK; jobs are good, but good paying jobs are better.  What Indiana needs are more jobs that pay well. Since the 1980s, the state has claimed that it is interested only in jobs that pay above the average for the area in which they are located.  When challenged by the fact that the jobs being acclaimed do not always meet that standard, the bureaucrat du jour says that we need jobs for people at all levels in the economic pyramid.

Don't get involved in this nonsense.  The question is, "Will the average wage rise as a result of the new jobs?"  New jobs can have a wage level below the average, but as long as they replace lower paying jobs, the average will rise.  Example:  if the average is $15 and the new job pays $10, but replaces a job paying $5, the average will rise.  It is not necessary to bring in jobs paying more than $15 to raise the average. What we need to do is drive out the lower paying jobs.

The average worker in Indiana in 2007 made about $51,900.  While that's a heap of bucks, it is about 15% below the national average of $60,800.  Worse yet, we are on a path that is moving up only gradually compared to the steeper slope for the nation.  Earnings per employed person in the U.S. grew by an annual average of 3.8% over the past three years while in Indiana that increase was only 2.7%.

When the personal income numbers came out last week, showing another poor performance by Indiana, some, seeking any straw, said, "It's because our population isn't grow as fast as the nation, so naturally our total personal income would be slower than the national growth rate as well."

Yes, population in Indiana is growing less rapidly than in the nation (0.67% per year vs. 0.95%, 2004 to 2007), but it is our slow rate of growth in personal income (4.6% vs. 6.2%) that is of more concern.  Put differently, in 2004, Indiana had 2.12% of the nation's population with 1.92% of the personal income.  In just three years we slipped to 2.10% of the population (not much of a drop) but only 1.83% of the personal income.

Our problem is income, not population.  Raise the income and we might well see population grow more rapidly.  In which sectors is Indiana adding income faster than is the nation? There were five of them from 2004 to 2007: Federal civilian employment, private educational services, forestry, farming and non-durable goods manufacturing.  However, there are 19 sectors where Indiana lagged the nation.  They are too numerous to mention here.

Oh, but is that too short a period of time? Let's go back to 1990 to 2007. Now there are nine sectors doing better in Indiana than in the nation: we add five to the previous five (durable goods manufacturing, administrative and waste services, health care and social assistance, arts-entertainment-recreation (gaming), and other services.  But we subtract federal civilian employment to give us nine sectors growing faster in Indiana and 15 failing to meet the national average rate of expansion.

Even if we printed all the detail here, it would not help our eager economic developers.  Too many factors are at work to pluck answers out of a data set.  All that we can derive from data are slashes on the tree bark pointing the way along a faint trail.