• A few facts on Common Construction Wages, labor policy in Indiana

    It seems that Indiana is about to repeal its Common Construction Wage law. You might be upset by the news, or you might be supportive of the idea. Or you might be thinking, “What the heck is the Common Construction Wage?”

    The law stipulates that most government construction contracts must have workers’ wages determined by a local committee comprised of union and government officials. The law was enacted in 1935 to ensure fair wages, and usually sets wages near union levels.

    Well, that’s probably not going to be the case anymore in Indiana, as a repeal has passed the State legislature, while Governor Mike Pence has yet to sign it but is a vocal supporter of it. They insist that it’s purely in the interests of lowering costs on public construction projects, despite detractors’ claims that it will bring lower wages to Indiana workers, attract out-of-state workers, and hurt unions.

    This comes a little more than three years after Indiana passed a right-to-work bill. For those who don’t know what right-to-work laws are, put simply, they allow workers in a workplace to receive the same terms and benefits of a union contract without having to join a union or pay its dues. Ostensibly about freedom of choice, these laws and their benefits to workplaces and local economies are controversial. There’s little argument, however, that unions have a much weaker presence in states with right-to-work laws.

    Pence has also spoken highly of Wisconsin Governor and 2016 Presidential candidate Scott Walker. Walker, you might remember, made a name for himself by outlawing collective bargaining by public employees in his state.

    So, is the repeal of the Common Construction Wage law really about the interests of the state and its taxpayers? Or is it about weakening unions and increasing the power of corporations while leaving workers at their mercy? You decide. I’m just stating the facts...

  • The minimum wage is not enough in Indiana

    Not too long ago, there was chart that went viral showing how many hours one would have to work in each state earning minimum wage to be able to rent a two-bedroom apartment. In Indiana, the number was in the seventies. But our state was actually on the low side, as several states required more than the equivalent of two or even three 40-hour workweeks.

    That made the point of how minimum wage workers can afford very few luxuries. What it doesn’t illustrate is how difficult it is to simply live on minimum wage.

    According to MIT, a living wage (meaning it covers all regular expenses) for a single person living alone in Indiana is $8.44 an hour. The state’s minimum wage is at the federal level of $7.25 an hour. The rate where they’d be considered below the poverty line is lower than that. However, the living and poverty wages increase as more people enter the picture. Basically, if there are any more than two people living together, the minimum wage is below the poverty wage.

    President Obama’s proposed increase would bring the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. In this scenario, an Indiana resident living alone would now have a living wage, and most households with two adults working minimum wage could theoretically double their income to a livable level. However, a single parent with even one kid would still be below the livable wage. Plus, anyone with kids knows how hard it is to have both parents working.

    The model doesn’t take into account life’s little caveats like this and others. For example, the calculation for a single-person household sets aside $306 a month on transportation. In real life, one month you might only pay for gas, then the next month your car might need expensive maintenance. Same with medical spending: you might not get sick one month then unexpectedly suffer a serious illness or injury the next, costing more than the $135 per month the model estimates.

    Indiana’s poverty rate is over 14 percent. Even at $10.10, the minimum wage probably still won’t lift them out of it. But to those who work for minimum wage and have to watch every cent they make, even less than an extra three bucks an hour would make a difference. If the federal government doesn’t raise the minimum wage, Indiana should.

  • Why are people leaving Indiana?

    I and many others have written about residents leaving Illinois. Not as many people are talking about the same thing happening here in Indiana. But it’s happening.

    Since 2005, more residents have left Indiana than have moved here. The state’s total population has remained overall steady, increasing slightly each year. About half the counties in the state, including Lake County, have seen small decreases each year, however.

    I have a few ideas why this might be:

    • Wages: Incomes in Northwest Indiana fell by about an average of $3000 last year…thoughworkers here are still paid better than the rest of the state. Indiana’s median household income lags behind the national average, as well as those of 30 other states and Washington D.C. And as I’ve said before, our minimum wage still lingers at the federal level.
    •  State services: People always complain about their tax dollars funding state services, but they always use them when they’re available. Indiana lags behind a lot of states in this department, from education to public transit. A big issue in the future could be health care, as more and more people come around to the Affordable Care Act. Currently, Indiana doesn’t run its own insurance exchange and is still kicking the idea of Medicaid expansion around. This could tilt our state out of favor for employment-seekers deciding between similar-paying jobs in Indiana or in another state that does have those things.
    • Greener, and warmer, pastures: I’d imagine those moving out of Indiana do so more for monetary reasons than weather-related ones. Still, warmer climates are no doubt more attractive than the bitter cold winters in the Midwest, the Region’s being even worse because of the Lake. Another factor more in our control, though, is our state’s environmental record. While we rank higher than some Midwest states, our air quality is still pretty bad. As someone who suffers from allergies and is thus sensitive to airborne particles, I can say from experience that the difference between Indiana and Washington (one of the most environmentally-conscious states in the country) is like the difference between inhaling secondhand smoke and simply clear air.