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April 24, 2013

EDITORIAL: Still waiting for the jobs reward

State lagging on employment data

TERRE HAUTE — The forces in control of Indiana government for most of the past decade need to show some results to Hoosiers in one primary category.

Good-paying jobs.

Legislators and the governors have cut the public-sector workforce, privatized services, and applied property-tax caps and cuts in many other taxes. The changes properly put the state government budget in balance — in a $2-billion surplus, even — with leaders able to boast of Indiana’s being the “fiscal envy” of other states. The value of efficient government is clear; taxpayers’ money should not be wasted.

Each step of their austerity movement, though, came with assurances that the economic reward for the belt-tightening — which included lost jobs in the education field — would ultimately be more Hoosier jobs with solid paychecks. The corporate-friendly atmosphere would bring in new employers offering their workers decent wages and benefits, and entice existing companies to expand and add jobs, Hoosiers were told.

Federal data released Friday indicated that unemployment rates fell from March 2012 to March 2013 in 39 states, and the District of Columbia. Jobless rates stayed the same in three states from ’12 to ’13. Only eight states saw unemployment rates rise during the past year, the Chicago Tribune reported, including Indiana. Perhaps most humbling, Indiana joins its much-maligned neighbor, Illinois, on that short list.

Indiana’s out-of-work rate in March, according to the Department of Workforce Development, was 8.7 percent. In March 2012, it stood at 8.2 percent.

The state also shed nearly 11,000 private-sector jobs last month — the first such decline in more than a year.

Of course, any batch of statistics contains bright sides and dark. The Indiana jobless rate stayed at 8.7 percent in March, just as it was in February, ending an upward climb. That’s good news. No state relies more on manufacturing for employment than Indiana, and jobs, production and work-hours increased in that sector. In a news release, Scott Sanders, commissioner of workforce development, said those numbers show “a propensity for expansion potential.” He also pointed out that Indiana’s private-sector job growth since 2009 outpaces the national average, 7.5 percent to 5.2. More good news.

On the other hand, the Indiana unemployment rate remains higher than the national rate of 7.6 percent, and three local counties (Vigo, Vermillion and Sullivan) are among the eight highest in the state. Only seven states have a higher percentage of joblessness — New Jersey, Rhode Island, North Carolina, California, Mississippi, Illinois and Nevada. Per-capita incomes in Indiana have gotten smaller in the past decade, too, and now stand at 86 percent of the national average. If those problems are solely the blame of Congress or the president, why aren’t the other states struggling to the same degree?

Another session of the Indiana Legislature in nearing an end. It will be interesting to hear the Senate and House leaders, and the governor, explain how soon their latest policies will boost employment and paychecks.

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