How In­di­ana slipped into burger-flip­ping poverty

Post-Tribune - - Opinion - David RUT­TER Com­men­tary Con­tact David Rut­ter at david.rut­

Pull up a chair. I’m afraid I have bad news. In between burg­ers on the grill and fire­works this La­bor Day week­end, try to re­mem­ber when you as­pired to a mid­dle-class life. Are you there yet? Prob­a­bly not. If you are like a mil­lion other Hoosiers, it’s been a Lost Decade.

You might have missed the event, and state politi­cians won’t ’fess up to their com­plic­ity.

In­di­ana’s com­monly shared delu­sion sug­gests that we are one, gi­ant mid­dle class. We get what we earn hon­estly, and our toil pro­duces safety and pros­per­ity for our families.

In­di­ana is the Amer­i­can Dream. We’re drink­ing that Pros­per­ity Kool-Aid.

If you di­vide In­di­ana in­comeearn­ers into three com­po­nents, the top 20 per­cent stood still dur­ing the decade, which means the Great Re­ces­sion mostly did not touch them. The mid­dle 40 per­cent lost nearly 5 per­cent in in­come.

And the bot­tom 40 per­cent of house­holds, mostly work­ing folks? They lost 23.5 per­cent of their in­come. Gone. Poof.

Af­ter 21⁄2 terms of fis­cal man­age­ment from gover­nors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence, how are you do­ing? Sorry to break the news. You’re prob­a­bly do­ing lousy, that’s how.

In­di­ana’s av­er­age worker pay ranks 42nd in the na­tion at $776 per week. That does not sound like much be­cause it isn’t much.

In­di­ana’s spokesmod­els have a dif­fer­ent, pithy mar­ket­ing campaign ev­ery month to prove how lousy it would be if you worked in Illi­nois.

But the av­er­age worker there earns $971 a week, just short of $10,000 more a year than his In­di­ana coun­ter­part.

Of the 50,000 Hoosier jobs added in each of the last two years, more were vari­a­tions of burger-flip­ping, just-over-min­i­mum-wage work than in any state in the Mid­west. There’s your economic re­cov­ery. If you want to gross 300 bucks a week, In­di­ana is a land of op­por­tu­nity. It has the fifth-high­est con­cen­tra­tion of jobs in the fast-food and jan­i­to­rial work in the United States.

The Cen­ter for Economic and Pol­icy Re­search notes that the ma­jor­ity of th­ese fast-food work­ers are adults, of whom 85 per­cent have a high school de­gree or more — and more than a quar­ter are rais­ing chil­dren.

The proof of this re­al­ity is that In­di­ana’s “busi­ness cli­mate” is an ec­static caul­dron of joy. Busi­ness own­ers love to pay burger-flip­ping wages. Have you not heard of cap­i­tal­ism’s joy?

But the mil­lions in In­di­ana’s fast-food bat­tal­ion are not part of the mid­dle class and never will be. They are cit­i­zens of an al­tered state that the gen­tle slope down­ward to work­ing poverty has pro­duced. Ev­i­dence? The an­nual Sta­tus of Work­ing Families re­port found that In­di­ana poverty in­creased at a faster rate than all but five states. And, more trou­bling, the spi­ral shows no signs of slow­ing. There are more than a mil­lion Hoosiers liv­ing in poverty, a record-break­ing level. There are 2.2 mil­lion res­i­dents who are of­fi­cially “low in­come,” mean­ing they earn less than 200 per­cent of the fed­eral poverty level. That is $22,980 for an in­di­vid­ual or $47,100 for a fam­ily of four.

We are mak­ing this poverty gen­er­a­tional — 45 per­cent of Hoosier chil­dren live at or be­low the poverty thresh­old. That’s higher than any neigh­bor­ing state. What In­di­ana teaches them is how lit­tle they have a right to ex­pect out of life.

More than 70 per­cent of new jobs in In­di­ana paid full-time wages in­suf­fi­cient to pull the worker out of the low-in­come cat­e­gory. We are poor be­cause em­ploy­ers hap­pily pay a me­dian hourly wage of $15.24, less than all neigh­bor­ing states ex­cept Ken­tucky. In­di­ana still has about 173,000 fewer jobs than it did be­fore the Great Re­ces­sion started in 2007.

Against that back­drop, Pence yanked $2 bil­lion out of Hoosier wal­lets to bankroll as a sur­plus. Banks that might loan money to a state love sur­pluses. It shows In­di­ana’s thrifti­ness, es­pe­cially when it comes to work­ing folks.

In this case, the sur­plus proves mostly that Repub­li­cans are gifted hoard­ers. That was your money. You might have wasted it on bet­ter med­i­cal care, im­proved roads and bridges, and state adop­tion ser­vices. So the GOP saved it for you.

You should be thank­ful they’re so fis­cally ma­ture.

And be­fore you ask, yes, I would like fries with that.

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