Next week’s column will offer data demonstrating the failure of Indiana and a substantial portion of its counties to exhibit even average economic growth in jobs and wages.
You, therefore, have seven days to sharpen your arguments supporting complacency, even satisfaction, with our economic progress.
Flatly stated, Indiana is not, and has not been, out-performing the nation in job or wage growth. Yes, for short periods of time, largely in the early part of the recovery from the Great Recession (2010 to 2012), Indiana did better than the nation as a whole. But if we take the entire recovery period (2010 to 2017), the story is one of continued mediocrity at best.
Why are we misinformed and self-satisfied? Is it the adverse economics of journalism combined with the self-interest of the booster community? The Times of Northwest Indiana did run a story on business closings in the past year, but how many other news-outlets did so?
Why are the media unbalanced toward “happy” economic news? Corporations issue news releases about their positive intentions; they are easy and inexpensive to report. But only when required do they tell us about their realized failures. State agencies (Department of Workforce Development, Commerce, Indiana Economic Development Corp.) likewise want your applause and continued funding.
The same applies to your local government, economic development agency and chamber of commerce. The death of a long-established firm gets a sentimental obituary notice. But the stagnation of business along Main Street or around the square in not news worthy. Store window displays that have not changed in years go unnoticed. The emptiness and neglect of retail, office, warehousing and manufacturing space is not covered.
Our state government refuses (to the best of my knowledge) to report on employment in our downtown districts or other major areas of the county. Retail sales tax collections by county on a quarterly basis are not available in Indiana as they are in other states. Even where there is no question of violating confidentiality rules, Indiana acts like a Victorian maiden terrified to show an ankle.
Does your town have a public transit system? How many riders did they have last month? What’s the on-time performance by route?
How many street lights were out of service this week?
Why are the operating figures of public entities collected, but not reported widely to the public? Many cities and towns require their local cable companies to carry public service programming, but do not make these operational indicators available even at 2 in the morning.
Why not? In some cases, government officials do not understand their own data and fear the public will “misinterpret” them. It is the same in the private sector. Only a few firms discuss their operations openly with their employees, customers and shareholders.
This may be a data-driven era, but generally we are denied the data we already have.