Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.  His column appears in Indiana newspapers, and his views can be followed on a podcast:

          Here’s another bundle of happy news about Indiana’s workers. This time it’s a ten year span covering both the recession and the recovery. We’ll compare Indiana’s labor force in 2007 with 2017. Yes, it would be more interesting to use 2018 data, but they are being checked and prepared for distribution.

          Happy item #1: Of Indiana’s 92 counties, 88 have seen the number of unemployed persons decrease by a total of 30,700.

         Happy item #2: Only four counties (Hamilton, Porter, Hendricks, and Boone) saw the number unemployed increase. So small were these few increases that they totaled only 1,100 persons. It was these four counties that led the state in increased employment and increased labor force. Were these small increases in the number unemployed just a timing factor as many people flocked to these counties where job growth was so plentiful?

          Happy item #3: The number of employed Hoosiers increased in 50 counties by 178,300. Boone had a 26 percent increase, Hamilton 25 percent, Steuben 24.8 percent. Also enjoying increases of 15 percent or more were Gibson, LaGrange and Decatur.

          Question #1: Was the state’s economy healthy when 42 counties saw a decrease in the number employed of 36,000 persons? Five counties (Orange, Jay, Blackford, Owen and Warren) each had losses of 15 percent or more in the number employed. Most people will be able to tell you what happens in a growing county. Is it worth examining what happens in places where the number employed is decreasing?

          Happy item #4: The labor force in 43 counties (equal to the numbers both employed and unemployed) grew by 160,200 persons. This increase was less than the 177,000 growth in the number employed. This means the number unemployed in those counties fell by 16,800.

          Question #2: Why did the labor force in 49 Indiana counties decline by a total of 47,400? Did these people move where the jobs were available or did they give up on finding a job and why?

          Happy item #5: The rate of unemployment statewide fell from 4.6 percent to 3.5 percent and declined in 89 Indiana counties. Porter, Warren and Switzerland alone had higher unemployment rates in ’17 than in ’07.

          Question #3: Do counties matter? Should we focus on the state as a whole and not worry about disparities among counties? Labor is mobile, can adjust to changing conditions, and not constrained by county lines. Perhaps a regional approach is more consistent with reality.

          Question #4: Does such thinking neglect fundamental aspects of worker preferences? Does the labor market reflect family and community ties?

          Happy item #6: Our Indiana economic or workforce regions are composed of counties. Therefore, regional data are easily aggregated from available county data.   

           Question #5: Are our Indiana regions based on administrative fatigue rather than the best model for forming regions?

            Discuss these questions with a stranger. They are guaranteed to build friendships.