Unemployment has fallen to historically low levels, and the Republican majority often touts Indiana's business-friendly tax structure as an enticement to bring new employers to the Hoosier state.
But the reality, for many Hoosiers, is that the majority of jobs don't offer enough pay for the worker to live off of, let alone take care of a family.
A recently released report, “The Status of Working Families in Indiana,” from the Indiana Institute for Working Families, analyzes federal and state data, painting a dire picture of employee pay in our state.
For direct correlations in cost of living, the report compared Indiana's wages to those in other Midwestern states and Southern states.
Indiana’s 2017 median hourly wage of $17.03 was the second-lowest rate among 12 Midwestern states, and the average Midwesterner made $2,100 more annually than the average Hoosier. While Indiana workers fared a bit better compared to those in 16 Southern states, they still lagged behind by nearly $1,000 annually.
But this is even more troubling: According to the report, the top-paid 1 percent in Indiana earn 17 times more than the average income of the remaining 99 percent. In other words, for each $1,000 earned by those among the 99 percent, those in the top 1 percent earn $17,000.
“The brunt of changes to Indiana’s economy have especially been felt by low-income families, women, children and Hoosiers of color,” the report concluded, citing Indiana's $7.25 minimum wage, which is the lowest allowed by federal rule, as one of the causes of low median wages.
Another factor is the state and local practice of enticing employers by touting the low cost of labor and offering incentives focused on building the tax base, rather than providing good-paying, stable jobs with benefits.
Low educational attainment plays a major role, too, in the state's inability to raise wages.
When hard-working people can't earn enough for a decent quality of life, poverty is only a step or two away. And poverty breeds crime, drug abuse, mental illness and a host of other problems.
So, here's the challenge for state and local government, community and business leaders: Move beyond unemployment, and attack the persistent obstacles of underemployment. Transform Indiana into a state where hard-working folks can earn a decent living.