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The Journal Gazette

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Friday, September 30, 2016 4:15 pm

Is Indiana growing? Democrats divided

Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

Democrats in Washington don’t see the same Indiana economy that Hoosier Democrats are looking at.

The White House released a fact sheet Thursday stating that new census data "show the significant economic progress in Indiana in 2015." Incomes are up, the poverty rate is down, and the percentage of Indiana residents without medical insurance declined.

But Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said Thursday in Fort Wayne that Hoosiers have regressed financially compared to the rest of the nation during the Republican administration of Gov. Mike Pence, the GOP candidate for vice president.

During a news conference at the Allen County Democratic Party Headquarters, Zody said Indiana ranks 38th nationally in per capita income. 

"People are struggling here in Indiana. … I think the numbers bear out that we ­haven’t seen incomes recover here," he said.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that median household income grew by 2.1 percent, or $1,024, in Indiana last year. But it said the national growth rate was 5.2 percent, or $2,800. Only nine states posted smaller income growth rates than Indiana did.

Indiana’s poverty rate fell by 0.7 percentage point in 2015, according to the census report, while the national rate dropped by 1.2 percentage points – the largest yearly decrease since 1968.

The report said 9.6 percent of Hoosiers lacked medical insurance last year, compared with 9.1 percent of people nationwide.

Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, stressed the national statistics during a conference call with reporters Thursday.

"I’ve been reading this report regularly for the last 21 years, and this year’s report was far and away the best I’ve ever read in terms of the economic improvements it documented for the American people," Furman said.

But Zody insisted earlier that Indiana has missed out on the nation’s economic recovery because Pence and Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, the Republican candidate for governor in the Nov. 8 election, have taken a "detour."

"They judge their record of attracting low-paying jobs to the state as a success. … Simply put, Mike Pence and Eric Holcomb are abandoning Hoosier workers just for their political gain. While they tout the jobs number, our state economy has grown at a slower rate than the rest of the nation," Zody charged.

The U.S. Census Bureau report stated that Indiana has added nearly 297,000 jobs since early 2010 and had a 4.5 percent unemployment rate in August. The national jobless rate was 4.9 percent.

Giving examples along the way, Zody and state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, contended that Pence administration policies have been bad for workers, schools, infrastructure, public health and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

"It’s not a detour; they frankly have driven us right off a cliff," GiaQuinta said.

Republicans responded with their own complaints about Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg – including an economic analysis showing Indiana’s wage growth ranked 42nd nationally when Gregg was speaker of the Indiana House in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

"It’s ironic that Indiana Democrats would hold a press conference not only in a city that will benefit from $42 million in Regional Cities funds, but also a region that is benefiting from the completed Fort to Port and Hoosier Heartland infrastructure projects – projects that were started and completed under Republican leadership," state GOP Chairman Jeff Cardwell said in a statement.

Holcomb spokesman Pete Seat said in an email that Gregg’s campaign "is born of pessimism and fueled by negativity." He said Indiana has "a lot of momentum propelling us forward thanks to the proven and responsible leadership of the past twelve years" – a reference to GOP governors Mitch Daniels and Pence.

Seat included links to recent media stories that put Indiana in a favorable light for, among other things, the quality of four of its universities, amenities attractive to young people and a statewide increase in building permits.