News From Terre Haute, Indiana


July 29, 2012

EYE ON THE PIE: Change occupation, residence to find better-paying jobs

A reader wrote to ask, “Where are the jobs that pay well?”

There are Indiana jobs that pay well and jobs that pay better elsewhere than in Indiana. The problem most often is the worker either has to change occupation or residence (or both) to get those jobs.

If you are typical, that is, if half of all the workers in the state make more than you do and half make less, you are known to statisticians as the median worker. In Indiana, the median worker earned $31,280 in 2011. That was $3,980 less than the median worker in Illinois, the state with the highest median wage among Indiana’s neighbors.

Is it worth nearly $4,000 a year to leave friends and family and move to Illinois? In addition, there is no guarantee that you have the skills or experience to make the median wage in Illinois.

If Illinois does not appeal to you, if you want to go for the big money in the 50 states, then consider Massachusetts ($42,730) or Alaska ($42,960).

However, first you might want to look around the Hoosier Holyland before you go elsewhere. In every state, the median worker’s wages differ greatly by occupation. If you are a cook in a Hoosier fast food restaurant, you know the median wage is $17,690 a year. You might consider becoming a carpenter and enjoying a median wage more than twice what you are currently making flipping burgers. Indiana’s carpenters have skills and experience that you would have to acquire before you could be that median carpenter at $37,970.

If mysteries intrigue you, think about becoming a detective or criminal investigator and enjoy a median wage of $48,150. If you have sadistic tendencies, maybe the job for you is dental hygienist with a median wage of $65,700. But these jobs, and most jobs, require training and experience in addition to talent and determination.

What’s the best-paying occupation in Indiana? We don’t know because the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report detail above $187,200 per year.

We do know that surgeons, psychiatrists, OB-GYN doctors, and anesthesiologists are in that class. Eleven of the top dozen wage-earning occupations in Indiana were doctors. The doctors practicing internal medicine come in at $173,580, general dentistry paid $10,000 per year less, and all other occupations fell lower on the scale.

All of these are figures for Indiana. Would it pay for the fast food cook or the carpenter to go elsewhere? Vermont offered a median wage of $20,930, or 18 percent greater than does Indiana.

The median wage of a carpenter in Hawaii was $66,980 or $29,010 more than in Indiana.

Some readers have been disturbed that I write often about wages and fail to discuss the cost of living. Hoosiers make less than people elsewhere, these readers argue, because the cost of living in Indiana is lower than elsewhere.

I deny this assertion. As I see it, Indiana has a lower cost of living because Hoosiers have lower wages than workers elsewhere. Housing markets are local, barber shops base their rates on nearby barber shops. Prices set in local markets are determined, in large measure, by the incomes of the customers. Hence, housing and haircuts cost less in Princeton and Portland (IN) than in New York or San Francisco.

Morton Marcus is an independent economist, writer and speaker formerly with the IU Kelley School of Business.

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