News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 31, 2013

State’s unemployment data demands attention

Morton Marcus
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — “Here’s a fact for you,” said Seymour Semaphore, who knows my interest in statistical realities. “Four of the five Indiana counties with the lowest average unemployment rates over the past 24 years border Indianapolis.”

“That’s no surprise,” I lied. It was, in truth, something I never thought about. I was not, however, going to give Seymour the gratification of seeing the gaps in my knowledge about Indiana trivia.

“People who move to places like Hamilton, Hendricks, Johnson and Boone counties,” I guessed which four he had in mind, “are often moving out of Marion County because they have the financial security (i.e. a job) to take the risk of moving to a higher cost location or lifestyle.”

“Shrewd reasoning,” he said, seeing through my ruse.  

“Rapidly growing counties often have little unemployment,” I stated with great confidence. “They often do not have major, old-line employers who can cause significant layoffs. Economic distress is more widely distributed in such places and may be of shorter duration.”

“Then,” Seymour said, “How do you explain Dubois County among those five? That southwestern county had an average unemployment rate of just 4.2 percent compared with the state’s 6.1 percent from 1990 forward.”

I paused and posed as I pondered. Finally, I said, “I don’t know. How would you explain it, Seymour?”

“It’s the people,” he said. “Dubois County has that German and Amish heritage; those people know how to work and they work through hard times.”

“Those are very flattering, positive prejudices,” I said. “Your views might be taken as affirmative bigotry. I would rather think in terms of specific industries or the adaptability of individual firms than the reputed characteristics of groups.”

“Are you aware of which counties over those years had the highest unemployment rates?” Seymour asked.

“No I’m not,” I answered honestly, “But I would guess that four of the five highest are south of I-70. That’s where much of the long-term economic distress shows up in our state.”

“You win that one,” Seymour conceded. “Crawford County had an average unemployment rate of 11 percent for those years, followed by Fayette and Orange just under 10 percent, with Lawrence at 9.5 percent.

“What about our industrial counties? I asked. It seems they would be high on the list.”

“The smaller industrial counties (Wayne, Grant and Miami) came in at 8 percent, but Howard was 7.4 percent, Madison, Lake and Vigo were 7.1 percent. Delaware, Elkhart and St. Joseph were in the 6 percent range. Then you get down to the 5 percent range with Vanderburgh, Floyd and Marion.”

“This is important information for our legislators,” I said. “They should know the longer-term circumstances of the places they represent rather than going on current information and misinformation. The remedies for long-term problems are far different from those applicable in the short term.”

“Do you think they are interested?” Seymour asked eagerly.

“Not,” I answered, “Unless you can find a sexier, more stimulating presentation than the one you just made to me.”    



Morton Marcus is an independent economist, writer and speaker. Contact him at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.