Economics lecture set for Oct. 18; Marcus is speaker

Morton J. Marcus

“Statistics don’t lie but liars use statistics.” This is the trite response often heard when someone quotes data to support an argument. As one who tries to represent reality by the use of data, I resent this oft-repeated insult.

Yet, we don’t hear the same about painters or photographers. Think of portraits where the use of light and shadow, angle, background, and numerous other aspects can make the villain look heroic, the plain radiate beauty.

Now look at how by asking different questions we can see Indiana’s economy differently. Our Indiana and national economies have been advancing for almost a decade. What aspect of the economy should we consider?

Our politicians focus on jobs. Jobs are not people. A person may hold more than one job. Hence, the number of jobs may exceed the number of people holding jobs. Jobs refer to workers at Indiana establishments, including persons who live beyond our borders. The Employed are persons who live in Indiana, but they may work in other states.

The jobs numbers come from a survey of employers and the number of residents holding jobs comes from a survey of households. But, due to bureaucratic perversity, both numbers are called employment.

Here, we’ll join the politicians and talk about jobs.

In between December 2017 and 2018, Indiana had a 0.9 percent growth in the number of jobs. This compared with an average annual rate of growth for 2012 through 2017 of 1.3 percent. Conclusion, Indiana’s job growth has slowed from the recovery years of the late recession.

Yet, seen in context of the nation, this is not exceptional. In the 2012-’17 period, U.S. jobs grew by an average rate of 1.8 percent, but slowed in 2017-’18 to 1.5 percent. Indiana slowed down in harmony with the national deceleration.

OK. Not so bad; we don’t go our own way and fight national trends. But in that solace, we overlook a very basic fact: the growth of Indiana jobs trails the nation. Back up and look at those numbers again. When the nation was growing at 1.8 percent, Indiana grew at 1.3 percent. More recently, with the U.S. growing at 1.5 percent, Indiana recorded only a 0.9 percent advance.

Hold on, there’s more to think about. When we describe the U.S., our data looks at the country as a whole. California alone has 12 percent of the nation’s jobs while Indiana has just two percent. That gives what happens in California more weight in the national numbers.

Furthermore, California recorded 17 percent of the change in total U.S. jobs while Indiana accounted for only 1.5 percent of that change. However, if we give the states equal weight, half of all states grew at seven percent rather than the more commonly reported 9.6 percent for the nation.

There are no lies here, but the “truth” may depend on who pays your salary.

Morton Marcus is an economist. Reach him at mortonjmarcus@gmail.com. Follow his views and those of John Guy on “Who gets what?” wherever podcasts are available or at mortonjohn.libsyn.com.

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