Bringing income issue home for all residents

I know. You’re getting tired reading here about income disparities. This is going to be the last of four such columns, at least for now.

Most people believe the current distribution of income among households is not what we want as a nation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014, 46.6 percent of American households had incomes under $50,000, which I’ll call low income. Another 29.8 percent were middle income (between $50,000 and $100,000) while 23.6 percent had high income ($100,000 and higher).

Here in Indiana, half of our households were low income, one-third middle income, and about one in six had high incomes. What distribution would satisfy us? I have no idea and I haven’t heard from anyone who knows the answer.

Let me propose, without foundation, we set a goal of one-third in each group. This modest standard would reduce the number of households with low incomes while raising the numbers in the middle and high ranges.

Note: this approach does not suggest taking anything from the high income households. Rather, it requires raising incomes for households in the low and middle ranges.

That means raising the value of the work done by income earners, a subject covered frequently in this space.

Nationally, to achieve the one-third goal in each income group involves raising the incomes of 15.6 million (13.3 percent) of U.S. households and 430,500 (17.2 percent) of Hoosier households.

Data from the Census are available for Indiana’s 25 most populous counties. Grant County (Marion) is currently furthest from the one-third standard with 62 percent of households below $50,000 and only 8 percent above $100,000. For Grant County the movement to the one-third goal would mean raising the incomes of 7,400 (29 percent) of the county’s households.

Delaware, Vigo, Wayne and Marion counties complete the top five counties with the greatest distance from the one-third objective. Hancock and Hendricks counties have the least distance (less than 2 percent of households) to go to reach that goal.

Only one of the 25 largest counties would need to see a decline in the percent of high income households. In 2014, Hamilton County enjoyed 42 percent of its households with incomes of $100,000 or more.

Yet, there is no reason for the rich in Hamilton or any other county to be concerned. If we were able to raise the incomes of those with low or middle incomes, the percent distribution of income would change. However, no one in the high income group need have less actual income.

Too many Hoosiers, from elected officials and economic developers to concerned citizens, believe that the best way to improve the numbers that describe our state is to bring in high-tech, high income jobs. They ignore the obvious; our statistics will improve if we raise the value of low and middle income jobs for the people who live here today.

Morton Marcus is an economist, writer and speaker who may be reached at mortonj marcus@yahoo.com.