Morton Marcus: Making sense of jobs disparities

An economist at IU Bloomington was often heard to say, “He who has a number is ahead of he who does not.” George Wilson then would apply pencil to any available piece of paper and rapidly produce a number. Most often they were remarkably consistent with the best estimates available.

But, when George performed this magic, he did not always share that number. He knew the power of numbers. He understood how a weak number could be used to shape a weak policy.

Today, let’s take two numbers and see what mischief can evolve. The first number is the change in the number of jobs in Indiana between 2007 and 2019, which are both years before major downturns. The second number is the change in the number of residents of the state employed between the same years.

The first number is 251,568 jobs compared to 226,215 employed residents. The difference is 25,353. What can we make of that?

We could say it suggests an increase in the number of part-time jobs. With fewer people to fill jobs, companies make it worthwhile for people to take part-time employment.

Or we could say, many Hoosiers don’t make enough at one job and have to take a second one to keep food on the table and a roof overhead.

If we think more broadly, we might conclude that Indiana has to import commuting workers from neighboring states to fill the jobs created by a bustling economy.

However, it could be argued Hoosiers with the necessary skills to fill all the job growth are leaving our Hoosier Holyland. Hence, we have to pay a premium to get out-of-state workers to keep our economy advancing.

Ah, what wonderous policies might be advanced with any of the four scenarios invented here to respond to this disparity. The existence of a disparity is always reason enough for policy to remove disparity.

If we come down to the county level, what marvelous times we could have attempting to erase disparities. Thirty-seven of Indiana’s 92 counties had a “surplus” of added jobs. Hendricks County was number one in the state with an increase of 15,740 in the number of jobs over the number of residents employed.

Of the 55 counties with a “deficit” of added jobs, Lake, Elkhart, and St. Joseph counties each had increases in employed residents greater than the changes in the number of jobs.

Naturally, Indiana’s government is not going to pay any attention to these numbers. To do so would violate three fundamental Hoosier legislative principles:

1. Counties are not of consequence; the state is supreme.

2. Whatever disparities exist are the result of market forces, already adjusted to a satisfactory equilibrium.

3. If people seem to need help, you should seem to give them help.

Morton Marcus is an economist. Follow him and John Guy on Who Gets What? wherever podcasts are available or at Send comments to [email protected]