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MUNCIE, Ind. — It does not sound very exciting, but the past 25 years have seen an explosion of new data about jobs, wages and educational outcomes. As with any new technology, some places are using it very effectively, while others lag substantially. I’m particularly impressed with three new data sets, and the potential they offer for a much deeper understanding of jobs and schooling. The first is a state-level linkage of schooling and employment data. The second is the web scraping of help wanted ads, and the third are Quarterly Workforce Indicators.
The history of these data and what they can tell us is fascinating and a bit surprising. I’ve worked as an economist at three different state universities that collected and used these data, so I have a bit of insight into their use, lack of use and misuse.
In the 1990s, the Census, the Department of Labor and Department of Education became convinced that better data about the educational and workplace experience of Americans might tell us something about school and work. Each state, not the federal government, is responsible for education; therefore, the federal government sought to convince states to put data together in ways that would support serious study.
To accomplish this, states needed to connect individual school records to job records, or more precisely, from elementary through college or workforce programs to employment. Lest anyone worry, one major challenge was ensuring that this data was completely anonymous. The goal of this work is to track experiences, not people, from school to job. For example, more than 20 years ago, I was contracted by a state commission on higher education to study labor market outcomes by degree holders from different state universities. They wanted to know if there was a difference in earnings associated with different schools.
To do this study, I built a statistical model that compared several dozen degrees, such as nursing, finance or MBA. I accounted for student demographics, where the job was located, and for the MBA analysis, the undergraduate major. I found no statistical difference between schools, which the commission found informative. This was an internal study, done confidentially for West Virginia.
Many states use these data today to better understand the effect of education on wages, to help identify underperforming schools or college degrees or to better evaluate the effect of particular degrees on wages and employment. Sadly, some states do almost no serious analysis of education and labor market outcomes, despite spending tens of millions of dollars per year to collect these data.
It is hard to know what internal analysis is being performed by each state. These things are often done quietly, as a roadmap for policy. Still, it is useful to see what questions little old West Virginia was asking and answering two decades ago. My hunch is that a lot of states who think themselves sophisticated data users are a few years behind West Virginia in 2003.
The second big data innovation of the past few years is the collection of online help-wanted ads. This data is collected by a process known as web scraping, which is a form of artificial intelligence. This AI collects help-wanted ads from a variety of sources. Federally, these data are reported along with other labor market data and used by forecasters and economists to better understand changes to employment.
There are also commercial sources of these data, which report weekly ads by occupation, wages, location, educational requirements and other characteristics. I find them very useful in teasing out questions about the composition of labor demand, and specific characteristics such as new job openings for remote work, or changing educational needs in some industries. But, some caution is in order. Data itself tells us nothing; it is the analysis that matters. I’ll use Indiana data as an example, but this mistake is commonplace.
I often hear from elected leaders that there are 200,000 unfilled jobs in Indiana, and most of them were for people with high school diplomas or less education. This data comes from help-wanted ads, but many firms maintain help-wanted ads constantly, particularly in high-turnover occupations such as retail, truck drivers and nursing assistants.
In fact, there is no correlation between raw help-wanted ads and labor demand. For example, in April 2020, the first full month of the pandemic, Indiana had 167,000 open help-wanted ads. That month we actually lost 463,000 jobs. In the following month, as employment leaped back by 120,000 jobs, help wanted ads dropped to only 126,000. Turnover, not growing demand, drives almost all help-wanted ads.
For example, from 1998 to 2022, job turnover among adults in Indiana suggested that firms should have advertised about 191,000 jobs each month. But, over that same period, the state only added 228,000 total jobs among adults aged 25 and older. That is about 250 help-wanted ads per net new job created over the past 25 years.
The third type of data is the Census and BLS Quarterly Workforce Indicators. This data set collects dozens of different pieces of information, by industry, at the county or higher level, by industry. It allows us to examine job growth, earnings and turnover by gender, age group and education.
Piecing these data together offers the potential for deep insight into labor markets. For example, it takes two of these data sets to understand the link between job turnover and help-wanted ads. And, it is this type of analysis that should help protect the state workforce, economic development and education officials from costly policy mistakes.
For example, if you looked at help-wanted ads, you’d think there was high demand for high school graduates in Indiana and relatively low demand for college graduates. But, from 1998 to 2022, total job growth for people who’d been to college numbered over 190,000, but for high school total job creation was about 41,000. Over that time the supply of high school graduates has grown much faster than the supply of college grads.
There’s been more data created on labor and education in the past 25 years than in the preceding 25 centuries. It is accessible, rich and offers almost endless insights to folks doing deep, thoughtful study. I think states would dodge some of their most costly policy mistakes by more fully exploiting these data. That analysis would cost a tiny fraction of the public expense of collecting the data.
Michael J. Hicks, Ph.D., is is a regular columnist for State Affairs Pro Indiana. Hicks is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and the George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University. Find him on Twitter @HicksCBER.
Header image: Brittney Phan for State Affairs
State Auditor Tera Klutz will be stepping down from office later this year, roughly one year after she was reelected, she announced today.
Gov. Eric Holcomb will appoint a replacement to serve out the remaining three years of her term when she departs Dec. 1, enabling him to leave his mark on state government even after his own term ends next year.
Klutz, a Republican and the state’s first certified public accountant to serve as auditor, said the decision to leave public office before her term was up was best for her family.
“I am excited about my next chapter — spending more time with family and friends, and returning to a career in the private sector,” said Klutz, the state’s chief financial officer, in a news release.
Through a spokesperson, Klutz did not disclose where she will be working.
“The highlight of my public service career has been working with my team of dedicated public servants who provide accountable and reliable back-office functions that keep our State running efficiently and successfully,” Klutz said in the release. “My service as the State Comptroller afforded me the opportunity to travel the state and meet so many Hoosiers. I am especially grateful for the welcome and respect our local and state officials have shown me.”
In the release, Klutz said during her time in office she overhauled the state’s transparency portal and modernized the state’s payroll system. She also lobbied the state legislature this past legislative session to change her office’s public name to state comptroller to more accurately reflect its duties.
Klutz is the fourth state auditor in a row to not finish out their term.
She was appointed by Holcomb in 2017 to replace then-auditor Suzanne Crouch, who left the office to serve as Holcomb’s No. 2. Klutz was later elected in 2018 and won her general reelection bid by nearly 24 percentage points in November 2022, after running unopposed at the Republican convention.
Prior to serving in state government, Klutz was the Allen County auditor, where she was named Auditor of the Year by the Indiana Auditors’ Association.
Holcomb praised Klutz for her service.
“As the first CPA to serve in the position, Tera has been a faithful fiscal steward with a keen focus on transparency and accountability, most notably by modernizing technology,” Holcomb said in a separate news release. “Throughout her tenure, Indiana has been recognized nationally for its responsible financial reporting.”
Header image: State Auditor Tera Klutz talks with State Affairs. (Credit: Kaitlin Lange)
Indiana is probably the type of state that the Environmental Protection Agency had in mind when it proposed a new set of rules that target fossil fuel-fired power plants.
Not only is the state still reliant on fossil fuels for most electricity — more than two-thirds is generated by coal (47%) and gas (29%), data show — Indiana has some of the worst air quality and is one of the most polluted states in the country. The primary focus of the new EPA rules, though, is an attempt to significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released by those plants. Fossil fuel-fired power plants are responsible for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA, and for about a third of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions that are heating the planet.
Yet while Indiana has been slow to adopt renewable energy sources, the pace of the state’s transition away from fossil fuels has been picking up steam in recent years.
But not fast enough for the EPA.
President Joe Biden’s aggressive climate agenda would require states like Indiana to hasten their energy transitions considerably. The draft power plant rules, released in May, would broadly require utility companies to cut their dependence on coal and gas, and to adopt emerging technologies that would enable the use of carbon storage and hydrogen.
Now Indiana government leaders and electric utility companies are raising concerns. They say the plans would force Indiana power plants to retire early, which could substantially increase the cost of electricity for Hoosiers while risking the reliability of the electric grid. And they say the technology cited by the EPA is not ready for widespread adoption.
“For carbon capture, while this is a technology that the state is invested in, it is not yet at the scale needed to accommodate all the utilities in the state,” Brian C. Rockensuess, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, told lawmakers during a committee meeting this month.
Environmental advocates, however, are characterizing the concerns as overblown. They point to two federal bills — the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — that contain grants and incentives for power plants to transition away from coal and gas. And they say the power industry always raises concerns about any new regulations but always finds a way to comply.
“They are like the boy who cried wolf,” said David Doniger, a former EPA official and current senior strategic director at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. “If you look at the track record, they say this every time and then, if the regulations are in fact adopted, the compliance goes smoothly.”
Indiana agency head raises concerns
Rockensuess voiced his concerns about the new EPA rules to Indiana lawmakers during an Interim Study Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications meeting this month.
He didn’t dive into the pros and cons of the environmental impacts; rather, he focused on the difficulty for policymakers and regulators in Indiana who will be tasked with enforcing the final rules adopted by the federal government.
Among the difficulties, he said, are requirements for some power plants to use hydrogen to generate electricity or rely on carbon capture and storage to reduce emissions. Both technologies, he said, are not ready for wide use, yet the federal government would require Indiana to explain how the state would implement the new federal rules within 24 months.
“Bottom line is they are asking for a lot in too short of a time,” he said. “Indiana and other states are being set up to run afoul of that timeframe from the start.”
Those concerns were echoed in a joint letter sent to the EPA by his department, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor.
The study committee also featured an out-of-state speaker who shared fiery testimony in opposition to the EPA proposal. By the end of the presentation, Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, questioned whether the Republican leaders considered inviting anyone with a different viewpoint.
“I was just kind of curious as to whether the chairman attempted to invite testimony from anyone in support of the rules, such as the Clean Air Task Force or the Natural Resources Defense Council, people along those lines?” Piece asked.
Committee chair Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, said that such viewpoints were already well-known because of the EPA’s plans, but he would consider Pierce’s request if lawmakers take up legislation on the matter when the legislative session begins in January.
Koch, who also leads the Senate utilities committee, later confirmed to State Affairs that he was unsure what actions the Indiana General Assembly might take in response to the federal rule, but he does not plan to file legislation this year.
The chair for the House utilities committee — Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso — told State Affairs he did not yet know if he would file anything.
Environmental advocates push back
While they were not invited to speak at the public meeting, many environmental advocates in Indiana are supportive of the president’s efforts to curb carbon emissions.
“Probably what you didn’t hear in the testimony at the Statehouse was the cost of mitigating and addressing issues related to climate change. And you probably didn’t hear the effects of air pollution and how that contributes to asthma and other diseases,” said Sam Carpenter, executive director of the nonprofit Hoosier Environmental Council. “In the big picture, all those things need to be considered.”
The Biden administration estimates up to $85 billion in environmental and public health benefits over the next 20 years.
Indiana once relied almost exclusively on coal for electricity. And while the state continues to be a top-five consumer of coal for electricity, the major utility companies have started shifting away from coal in recent years. They’ve largely replaced that fuel source, though, not with renewables but with natural gas. That’s because gas is relatively affordable, and it easily enables utility companies to both meet the daily electricity demands but also rapidly ramp up production during cold snaps and heat waves.
Some utilities are seeking state approval to build new gas plants even now. Indiana customers will be on the hook for whatever is constructed now — such as a gas plant — even if those plants are rarely used or even shut down because of federal regulations. And then Hoosiers will also have to pay for whatever the utility companies build next.
“This continued investment into fossil fuels is going to be a stranded investment,” Carpenter said. “Down the road that’s not going to be paying off. That’s just a bad path to take.”
If enacted, the new EPA rules are sure to draw litigation from Republican officials.
Attorney General Todd Rokita has already promised Indiana’s involvement: “Fortunately, the courts will almost certainly strike down these new EPA mandates — and on behalf of Hoosiers, I’ll do everything in my power to ensure that happens,” Rokita said in a statement about the proposed rules.
His comments align with those made by Indiana’s major utility companies. They accuse the EPA of overstepping — arguments that were at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2021 that said the EPA lacked the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions.
Others aren’t as confident as Rokita and utility companies.
Rockensuess, the state environmental management department commissioner, noted in his testimony that the EPA does have the authority because of new language contained in the Inflation Reduction Act, which Congress passed after the Supreme Court decision.
“It clarified and granted them the authority to regulate greenhouse gasses,” Rockensuess told lawmakers.
Rockensuess said he expected to see the final EPA rule by next May.
Header image: A row of solar panels sits outside AES Indiana’s Harding Street power plant. (Credit: Ryan Martin)
Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Doden is calling on the Indiana Chamber of Commerce to end its support for school district consolidation in rural Indiana.
In a letter sent today, the Fort Wayne businessman labeled the business group’s position as “damaging.”
“While the stated aims of this position are laudable, the message sent to our small towns and rural communities is damaging,” Doden wrote. “Proposing to do away with small public school districts through consolidation will be seen as a death knell for the millions of Hoosiers who live in small towns and rural communities.”
For years, the Indiana Chamber has advocated for fewer school districts across Indiana. A 2017 study commissioned through Ball State University identified worse educational outcomes for students in smaller districts in several categories, including scores for state standardized testing and the SAT, as well as the pass rates for Advanced Placement classes.
The Indiana Chamber re-upped its position last month when it released its long term economic development plan. Among the listed policies was a goal to “reduce by half the number of very small school districts with enrollments below 2,000 students to provide much stronger educational opportunities for rural students and communities.”
More than half of Indiana’s school districts have fewer than 2,000 students.
In a statement to State Affairs, Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar said the state is providing a “two-tiered educational system” depending on income and ZIP code.
“Hoosier students should not be limited academically solely due to where they live. And that’s the case now in some of the smaller school districts where students are not afforded the opportunity to take a full array of STEM, Advanced Placement or college preparation courses,” Brinegar said in the statement. “The Chamber’s stance on smaller school district consolidation is rooted in wanting to lift up young Hoosiers in these rural communities, so they have a better chance at prosperity by properly preparing them for the state’s current and future job opportunities.”
The statement also contained a specific response to Doden’s criticism.
“We would be happy to sit down with Mr. Doden and go through the research and show him why we have adopted this position for the betterment of the academic and economic opportunities for our young people,” Brinegar said in the statement. “The status quo that Mr. Doden is championing has and will continue to leave small communities, schools and students behind. That’s not acceptable.”
But whereas the business group sees consolidation as one way to improve life in rural Indiana, Doden sees the opposite.
“Across our state it’s easy to see the remnants of a school consolidation push that began in the 1950s,” Doden wrote in his letter. “Too many towns that lost their local school to consolidation dried up and were virtually swept from the maps while other towns kept their schools and their identities. These communities had a better opportunity to survive.”
Doden also cited one of his policy proposals, which would redirect $100 million in state money toward small towns — in an effort to address declines in populations and quality of life.
“With local leadership and local control, we can revitalize our small towns and hometowns with a fraction of the investment we give away in the form of incentives,” Doden wrote.
Doden addressed the letter to Vanessa Green Sinders, who will replace Brinegar as the Indiana Chamber’s leader. Her tenure will begin in January, so she was unavailable to provide comment to State Affairs. Either way, the Indiana Chamber’s members are the ones who suggest policy positions for the board of directors to approve before each legislative session.
In addition to Doden, the crowded Republican field for governor includes U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, former Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and former Attorney General Curtis Hill.
Jennifer McCormick, the former state superintendent of public education, has emerged as the leading Democratic candidate. Instead of school district consolidation, the state should reevaluate its expansion of school choice vouchers, McCormick has previously said.
Header image: Eric Doden, 2024 Republican candidate for governor of Indiana (Credit: Eric Doden for Indiana Governor/Facebook)
The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission today filed a formal complaint against state Attorney General Todd Rokita that alleges three violations of attorney professional conduct rules.
Rokita faces official allegations that he committed professional misconduct with his public comments about Dr. Caitlin Bernard after she provided an abortion to a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim last summer.
Rokita is defending his actions, saying that state confidentiality laws shouldn’t apply to him because Bernard was the first to talk in the news media about the girl’s treatment. It could take months before the state Supreme Court decides whether Rokita will face any punishment.
The commission didn’t ask for a specific punishment against Rokita, asking simply that he be “disciplined as warranted for professional misconduct” by the state Supreme Court.
Commission Executive Director Adrienne Meiring filed the complaint that focuses on actions by Rokita and his office between early July 2022 and Nov. 30, 2022, when the attorney general’s office filed a misconduct complaint against Bernard with the state Medical Licensing Board.
Bernard drew national attention in the days after a July 1, 2022, story by The Indianapolis Star quoting her about the young girl’s abortion just days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The complaint against Rokita highlights his July 13 appearance on a Fox News program, during which he said he would investigate Bernard’s actions and called her an “abortion activist acting as a doctor — with a history of failing to report.”
It also points to his office’s unusual action of publicly releasing on July 13 a letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb that named Bernard in seeking records from two state agencies and a July 14 press release from his office about the investigation.
The complaint alleges Rokita’s actions violated confidentiality requirements of pending medical licensing investigations under state law and by doing so Rokita “caused irreparable harm to Dr. Bernard’s reputational and professional image.”
Rokita responded Monday with a legal filing saying that the confidentiality requirements shouldn’t apply to him because Bernard had already gone public about the girl’s medical treatment.
Rokita also argued that “The Attorney General, an elected official who answers to the public, has a duty to keep the public informed of the Office’s actions and decisions.”
The state Medical Licensing Board voted 5-1 in May to reprimand Bernard and fine her $3,000 for violating patient privacy laws. The board, however, voted unanimously to reject allegations from the attorney general’s office that Bernard violated state law by not reporting the child abuse that led to the girl’s pregnancy to Indiana authorities and did not issue any restrictions on Bernard’s medical license.
Why It Matters
The Disciplinary Commission’s complaint carries the potential of forcing the Republican attorney general from office.
State law requires that the attorney general be “duly licensed to practice law in Indiana.” The state Supreme Court, which has the final say over attorney disciplinary matters, has wide discretion, with options all the way up to permanently stripping an attorney of his law license.
Rokita won the Republican nomination for attorney general in 2020 over then-Attorney General Curtis Hill after Hill faced allegations that he drunkenly groped four women at a party celebrating the end of the 2018 legislative session.
The Supreme Court suspended Hill’s law license for 30 days, saying that “by clear and convincing evidence that [Hill] committed the criminal act of battery.” The court rejected the hearing officer’s recommendation of a longer suspension that could have forced him from office. Hill is now seeking the Republican 2024 nomination for governor.
Rokita has sought to burnish his anti-abortion and national profile with the Bernard case. Besides challenging Bernard’s medical license, his office last week filed a lawsuit against the doctor’s employer, Indiana University Health, alleging it violated federal law by allowing Bernard to disclose information about the Ohio girl’s treatment. The girl’s mother brought her to Indiana to receive abortion drugs because an Ohio ban on abortions after six weeks had taken effect after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last summer.
Rokita is entitled to defend himself with a hearing before a judicial officer appointed by the Supreme Court, who would then submit a recommended punishment to the court.
In Hill’s case, it took about 14 months from the time that the disciplinary complaint was filed against him for the court’s five justices to receive the case and make their decision.
Rokita’s defense lawyers include two from the Washington, D.C., firm Schaerr-Jaffe. The firm also assisted the attorney general’s office with the case against Bernard under a contract allowing it to bill the state $550 an hour for work by the firm’s attorneys.
“This is a complaint against the official duties of the Attorney General and is an attack against his official capacity, so this is paid by the office,” Rokita’s office said.
Rokita isn’t backing down in the political battle, either, as he released a statement Monday calling himself “a passionate fighter” who “is beating back the culture of death, grievance and transanity being pushed by radicals in workplaces, schools, media and government.”
Democrats argue Rokita is using the Bernard case “to further his own personal political ambitions.”
“Todd Rokita’s actions toward Dr. Caitlin Bernard over the past year brought shame and ridicule upon our state,” Indiana Democratic Chairman Mike Schmuhl said in a statement. “Now, he is starting to see the consequences of making baseless claims regarding a medical professional on national television.”
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Header image: Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita speaks during the America First Agenda Summit organized by America First Policy Institute. (Photo by Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA)(Sipa via AP Images)