Tag Archives: Indiana

Numbers Can Be Deceiving

Well, the Orange One has delivered a “major” speech on the economy. As usual, very little he said is remotely accurate; here’s just one example from a Time Magazine article deconstructing those claims:

Trump’s claim that one-in-five American households “do not have a single member in the labor force” is also therefore not a reflection of employment problems so much as it’s a recognition that 20% of American households are headed by retirees. Your 85-year-old grandfather and his 82-year-old wife aren’t participating in the labor force—and that’s probably a good thing.

Because we Americans have a tenuous grasp of economics, politicians often feel free to play with the numbers. That’s nothing new (although Trump does take misinformation to a whole new level…)

Last May, the website of the Indiana Institute for Working Families had a discussion of unemployment numbers that explained what those numbers do–and do not–reveal about the health of a state’s economy. Since we are in the middle of a campaign season in which Trump and other candidates will continue to take liberties with those numbers, it is worth revisiting that explanation.

The post itself was triggered by a seemingly rosy employment report: more Hoosiers were working, and the workforce was nearing an all-time high. Good news, right?

Well, as the policy analyst explained, “all that glitters is not gold.” Among the reasons for caution is something called the Labor Force Participation Rate.

 it’s also important to look at the Labor Force Participation Ratio (LFPR)—the ratio of the civilian labor force to the total non-institutionalized civilian population 16 years and older—as a useful tool in determining the overall health of the labor market. A low LFPR means there is slack in the labor market, which puts downward pressure on wages, and holds back growth in household incomes.

In layman’s language, the LFPR means that a decline in the unemployment rate can be explained, at least to some extent, by the number of Hoosiers leaving the labor force. That’s because workers are only counted in the unemployment rate if they are actively seeking work. But the workforce dropout rate isn’t the whole story either.

That brings us to the third and final point, which helps to illustrate declining LFPR; while the state is reaching employment levels (total nonfarm employment) not seen since the summer of 2000, the population of adults in Indiana (16+) has grown by more than a half-million during that time period. In other words, Indiana has added jobs, but not nearly enough to keep up with population growth.

Worse yet, the jobs that the state is adding are low-paying jobs. A recent report from the Indy Star – Economic Gaps Growing Among Hoosiers – encapsulates the conundrum that is the state’s insistence on low road growth strategies: “As the state economy grows and state leaders say pro-business policies have created more than 57,000 new jobs last year alone, poverty is on the rise. That’s right. More jobs, yet more poverty.”

It’s always useful to consider what the statistics tell us–and how the real story differs from the snake-oil on offer.

Getting to Know Mike Pence

Hoosiers have gotten to know Mike Pence during his tenure as our dense and divisive Governor; that familiarity was why he was on track to lose his bid for re-election. But the rest of the country is just now getting an in-depth look at what, in Pence’s view, passes for policy. 

One such recent “introduction” began with this overview:

Much has been made of Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s record on LGBTQ issues. In 2000, when he was running for U.S. representative, Pence wrote that “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ [sic] entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” He also said that funds meant to help people living with HIV or AIDS should no longer be given to organizations that provide HIV prevention services because they “celebrate and encourage” homosexual activity. Instead, he proposed redirecting those funds to anti-LGBTQ “conversion therapy” programs, which have been widely discredited by the medical community as being ineffective and dangerous.

The real focus of the story, however, is on Pence’s longstanding war on a woman’s right to control her own reproduction–not just his efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood, or his signing of an outrageous, punitive and unconstitutional anti-choice law, but his less well-known diversion of millions of dollars in public funds that were supposed to provide food and health care for needy families to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence, who declined multiple requests for an interview with Rewire, has been outspoken about his anti-choice agenda… . people in need of abortion care are forced to take significant time off work, arrange child care, and possibly pay for a place to stay overnight in order to obtain it.

This environment is why a contract quietly signed by Pence last fall with the crisis pregnancy center umbrella organization Real Alternatives is so potentially dangerous for Indiana residents seeking abortion: State-subsidized crisis pregnancy centers not only don’t provide abortion but seek to persuade people out of seeking abortion, thus limiting their options.

Adding insult to injury, the three and a half million dollars going to Real Alternatives came from TANF funds.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF is explicitly meant to clothe and feed children, or to create programs that help prevent “non-marital childbearing,” and Indiana’s contract with Real Alternatives does neither. The contract stipulates that Real Alternatives and its subcontractors must “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” The funds, the contract says, cannot be used for organizations that will refer clients to abortion providers or promote contraceptives as a way to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Real Alternatives is an anti-choice organization run by a Pennsylvania lawyer who has no medical experience or background. The organization finances, and refers clients to, crisis pregnancy centers that encourage clients to carry their pregnancies to term and “helps” them decide between adoption or child rearing. “Counseling” and classes teach that abstinence is the only way to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

The article is lengthy and well researched, and it accurately portrays the unctuous Mike Pence that Hoosiers know so well.

We can just hope that the rest of the country comes to know him as well as we do. Quickly.

A Definition of Insanity

John Hamilton is Mayor of Bloomington. This week, he had a heartfelt, frustrated–and frustrating–op ed in the New York Times.

Hamilton recounted two recent events from his city: an “open carry” parent swaggering around a municipal swimming pool, terrifying other parents; and a float in the annual Fourth of July parade “featuring armed men from a private firearms training center with military-style machine guns held at the ready, ammunition belts attached, atop a pickup truck.”

Both incidents generated unease and concern; both prompted calls for the Mayor to “do something” to ensure citizen safety. But, as Hamilton wrote, his inability to do anything–no matter how minor–has been assured by Mike Pence and Indiana’s legislature.

This is all happening in Indiana, with a governor, Mike Pence, who has long fought against any reasonable restrictions on guns. His extreme views on this, and other issues, are apparently one reason Donald J. Trump chose him as his running mate. The nation as a whole will now get a better look at the kind of attitude on gun laws that has earned Governor Pence an A rating from the National Rifle Association — and has made it harder for me to do what my constituents want when it comes to making them safe.

As Hamilton points out, his constituents aren’t anti-guns, or anti- Second Amendment.

They just don’t want handguns carried around at their public pools. They don’t want machine guns in their parades. Nor does my Police Department. Nor do I.

And in fact, my city used to have reasonable restrictions in place on the possession of firearms in parks, city facilities and at City Council meetings.

But five years ago the State Legislature prohibited cities from enforcing virtually any individual local regulation of firearms, ammunition or their accessories. The statehouse said we couldn’t restrict what kind of guns or ammunition can be carried, displayed, worn, concealed or transported, with a few very limited exceptions like courtrooms and intentional displays at official public meetings.

The state did nothing to fill this vacuum it created. It did create one exception to protect itself — prohibiting anyone but officers, legislators or judges from carrying guns in the statehouse. And in one more technical twist, the state said if any city ever tries to restrict firearms or ammunition, it would be subject to paying triple the lawyers’ fees for anyone who sues us.

So despite what a vast majority of Bloomington wants, we can’t ban a handgun from a public pool or a machine gun from a parade float.

Polls routinely show large majorities of Americans favoring reasonable restrictions on guns. Until we vote out the politicians who have been bought and paid for–or cowed–by the NRA, however, responsible public officials will have no option but to stand by and watch childish, macho displays of….what?

What is the psychology of a parent who parades around a municipal swimming pool packing a pistol?

In an era where police are rightfully concerned about being targeted by mentally unstable individuals, why on earth would we encourage citizens to walk around brandishing weapons?

How do they–or the rest of us– distinguish the “good guy” with the gun from the disturbed guy looking for provocation?

This is nuts.

Ah..Those Laboratories of Democracy…

When I introduce students to America’s constitutional architecture, I sometimes begin by asking them to define federalism. Judging from the blank stares and efforts to avoid being called on, I think it’s fair to say that our federalist system is not widely understood.

That’s too bad, because one of the policy debates we should be having–but aren’t–is how such a system should operate in a time when transportation and communication technologies have changed the way we view state lines. What sorts of rules and policies need to be national in scope, and which are best left to state and local government?

However we answer that question, one important role that states will undoubtedly continue to play is in the development of new approaches to governing.

Justice Louis Brandeis famously referred to the states as “laboratories of democracy;” the idea was that state governments would try new ideas and programs, acting as “pilot projects,” that would allow the rest of the country to evaluate the merits of those approaches before adopting them.

Inevitably, some will be cautionary tales, and pre-eminent in that category is Kansas or, as Charles Pierce calls it,

the failed state of Kansas, now in the fifth year of the Brownbackian Dark Ages, as such things are reckoned. Somehow, the fact that Kansas’ status as a supply-side lab rat has dropped the state down a political garbage chute the likes of which hasn’t been seen since they shredded the Articles of Confederation is beginning to seep under the guardhouses of the gated communities. The head of a healthcare company is fleeing to the Missouri border and he’s not shy about telling the world why.

The blistering indictment of Brownback’s Kansas by that company’s CEO is illuminating; noting that Kansas has become a test center of “trickle down” economics, he pointed out that those policies have led to a “dramatic failure of government.”

Brownback implemented unprecedented tax cuts in 2012. The largest cuts were in the highest tax brackets, and Brownback promised that they would provide a “shot of adrenaline” for the Kansas economy. They actually had the opposite effect, with Kansas lagging neighboring states in job growth and missing revenue targets in 11 of the past 12 months. In the face of ever-deeper debt and another round of degraded bond ratings, Brownback has asked his citizens to pray and fast to solve the budget crisis.

That should turn things around. Not.

It is tempting to look at the hot mess that is Kansas and feel better about Indiana. And granted, our fiscal problems–while substantial– are less severe. But our Governor has  generated his own cautionary tales.

Take, for just one example, his attack on public education and his fervent support of school vouchers. Indiana now has the largest voucher program in the country–and some of the most consistently under-resourced public schools. The public justification for expanding the voucher program is that allowing parents to choose private schools will improve education, at least as measured by test scores. (Given the percentage of families using those vouchers at religious schools, however, it is likely that the Governor’s preference for church over state– his consistent effort to bolster religious institutions and practices– is implicated.)

So how has Indiana’s “laboratory experiment” been working out? Not so well.

Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.

Perhaps Governor Pence can call for a day of prayer and fasting to raise the test scores of those voucher students. In the meantime, other states can be grateful for a federalist system that lets them learn from–and avoid– others’ disasters.

Not a Mentsch

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Orlando, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted out–you guessed it–a biblical phrase:  “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” –Galatians 6-7

In the wake of a tragedy that took 50 lives, this poor excuse for a human being decided to blame the victims for not living in accordance with his warped version of Christianity.

Yesterday, I posted about just this sort of use of “Christianity” (note quotation marks) in the service of hate. It isn’t just Christianity, of course; any religion can be pressed into that service, and all of them have been and continue to be so used.

There is something so smarmy, so distasteful, about people like Dan Patrick. Their willingness to use tragedy as an occasion for moral posturing is small and mean and utterly despicable.

This sort of offensive faux piety from deeply flawed public officials drives me nuts. And Patrick is far from alone. Texas politicians are currently among the worst, but Indiana is hardly in a position to point fingers.

Hoosiers who read this blog have probably seen the bright blue and gold yard signs proclaiming “Pence Must Go.” They are the brainchild of Kevin Warren, a local realtor, and his husband Neil Bagadiong, who established pencemustgo.org  as a political action committee in reaction to the Indiana Governor’s RFRA debacle.

RFRA was an effort to legitimize the sort of attitude displayed by Dan Patrick–to create a culture in which LGBT persons would be legally “less.”  Given the number of “Pence Must Go” signs I see, it seems a lot of Hoosiers understand where the attitudes such measures foster can lead.

The original signs have been joined by a number of others: Women’s Health Matters, Separation of Church and State, and Indiana Needs Leadership, among others. (Hoosiers can also buy anti-Pence hats, mugs and bumper stickers on the political action organization’s website.)

One of the newer yard signs that particularly appeals to me is “Pence is Not a Mensch.”

Mensch is a yiddish word that literally translates into “a real human being.” In usage, it is intended to refer to upstanding, worthy, honorable people–people who exhibit compassion and loving-kindness, who are not judgmental or–to use the biblical phrase–“stiff-necked.”

When my children were very young, I used to tell them that I didn’t care what professions they chose, what interests they pursued, what beliefs they embraced or who they chose to love….but I did want them to grow up to be mentsches.

Self-satisfied public officials who use the power of the state to marginalize and stigmatize people who are different, who ignore the Constitutional separation of church and state in order to privilege their particular belief systems, who ignore the needs of those in need–those officials are not mentsches. Not even close.

When people in leadership positions signal that bigotry is acceptable, when they contribute to an environment that diminishes and marginalizes people who do not fit within the narrow categories they deem biblically appropriate, that sends a signal to unstable and troubled individuals.

The message is: these people are unworthy, sinful, expendable. Attacks on them are “God’s work.”

It’s a gross oversimplification, but at some level, the world is divided between two groups of humans: mensches and assholes.

Pence, Patrick and their ilk are definitely not mensches.