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Mediocrity in the State of Indiana, 2014: an update

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I’ve been writing regularly on Indiana’s overweening mediocrity ever since my associate David Fey and I did a workshop on Hoosier Mediocrity at an event in Indianapolis in May 2009 and wrote our presentation up in an article, “Mediocrity—A Hoosier affliction,” that was published in the alternative newspaper Bloomington Alternative on July 12, 2009, http://bloomingtonalternative.com/articles/2009/07/12/10039. (The presently on-hold Bloomington Alternative was published/posted online in Bloomington Indiana, which is home to the main campus of Indiana University, from which both Fey and I graduated.) And much of this later writing was posted on examiner.com since then, notably August 3, 2009’s “Indiana’s Brain Drainthe problem that won’t go away,” [sic.]www.examiner.com/article/indiana-s-brain-drain-the-problem-that-won-t-go... April 24, 2012’s “Indianapolis: Super Bowl city not so super,” http://www.examiner.com/article/indianapolis-super-bowl-city-not-so-super; the highly-regarded, extensively-praised article of March 12, 2013, “Indiana’s FSSA and the shredded Hoosier safety net,” http://www.examiner.com/article/indiana-fssa-and-the-shredded-hoosier-safety-net; its follow-up, April 20, 2013’s “Indiana mediocrity extends to government services,” http://www.examiner.com/article/indiana-mediocrity-extends-to-government-services; July 25, 2013’s nationally re-posted “Work in Indiana and make less than in 1967,” http://www.examiner.com/article/work-indiana-and-make-less-than-1967; and another article on the ill-functioning FSSA, the Family and Social Services Administration, umbrella agency for all welfare, child protective, vocational rehabilitation and mental health/addiction services, and its horribly malfeasant provision of vital social safety net provisions to the poor, nastily (but deservedly) titled, “The real ‘welfare scum,’” http://www.examiner.com/article/the-real-welfare-scum. That title was chosen for two telling reasons: first of all, it is how most Hoosiers actually view the recipients of welfare; and also, because the FSSA’s delivery of welfare, vocational rehabilitation and mental health/addiction services themselves to those who really need them is as poverty-stricken as its recipients.

In this I often wrote first-hand, about what I as a Hoosier worker, welfare recipient, and taxpayer had actually experienced. Indiana, unfortunately, is a bastion of mediocrity, and few Hoosiers care—which is the pity stemming from both its aggressively hidebound, active right-wing organized by the Republican, Tea and Libertarian Parties, and its soft, queasy, frequently well-meaning but milquetoast “progressives,” who are content to act in ways that symbolically (in their eyes) “Speak truth to power,” but actually only “Beg ‘Pretty please’ from power.”

A good part of this mediocrity arises from the low educational attainment of the Hoosier State. Indiana ranks only 31st among the 50 states plus the District of Columbia in percentage of its population with at least a high school diploma; and those states with lower high school graduation rates are mostly confined to the traditionally poor, low-wage and low-education Old Confederacy, plus those states (California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona) which have had a large influx of Mexican and other Latin American immigrants without a high school education.

And among the 12 states comprising the Midwest—Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Ohio, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota—Indiana ranks 11th out of the 12, with only Illinois, with 86.4% of its population graduated from high school compared to Indiana’s 86.6%, ranking lower.

Indiana’s ranking is even more dismal when it comes to higher education, that percentage of the population holding a Bachelor’s degree or higher. Its rank here is 44th out of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, with only 22.5% of its population 25 or older having attained at this level; this compares to the national average of 27.9% of the U.S. population 25 or older having attained at least a Bachelor’s degree. Among the 12 states of the Midwest, Indiana’s ranking is dead last. It’s a little more mixed among those with advanced degrees, which comprise not only Master’s degrees and Ph.D.’s, but also professional medical and law degrees—here Indiana ranks 38th among the 50 states plus the District of Columbia at 8.1%, and 9th out of the 12 states comprising the Midwest. The national average is considerably higher—10.3%. And because this category includes holders of professional medical and law degrees, rankings here include doctors and lawyers as well as those who’ve attained advanced academic degrees. Of course, it is a sobering fact that the vast majority of legislators at both the state and federal levels have law degrees—even as public disgust at legislators is at an all-time low! (Figures extrapolated from U.S. Census, “Table 233. Educational Attainment by State: 1990 to 2009,” http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0233.pdf.)

Clearly, Indiana has a crisis in educational attainment, a major cause of its overwhelming across-the-board mediocrity. Yet the Indiana government’s own Commission for Higher Education is oblivious when it comes to the crucial question of “What’s to be done about it?” stating baldly on its “Overview” page on its website, http://www.in.gov/che/3142.htm,

According to 2012 Census data, only 34.4 percent of working-age Hoosiers (25-64 years old) hold a two- or four-year college degree; the national average is 39.4 percent. Indiana has made the Big Goal of 60 percent higher education attainment by 2025 a centerpiece of its higher education policy, and data suggest that if Indiana does nothing, only 41 percent of Hoosiers will have a degree by 2025. It is vital to address this issue, as data from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University suggests that by 2020 over 60 percent of the expected job vacancies in Indiana will require a postsecondary credential.

Yet this goal of 60% by 2025 is palpably unrealistic, given that as of present, 60% of Indiana’s college graduates leave the state due to poor employment prospects, (Indiana Institute of Working Families, “Status of Working Families in Indiana, 2011” [released April 2012], http://www.incap.org/documents/iiwf/2012/Final%20Draft-Status%20of%20Working%20Families%20in%20Indiana,%202011.pdf, p.20; in 2011, 41.3% of Indiana’s workers with a Bachelor’s degree or higher suffered long-term unemployment, ibid., p. 14.); and with the Indianapolis Star stating in 2009 that 46.6% of Hoosier college graduates leave the state within one year of graduation. (“Hoosier Mediocrity Fact Sheet,” http://bloomingtonalternative.com/f/Hoosier%20Mediocrity.pdf, p.4, contained in Fish and Fey, “Mediocrity—A Hoosier Affliction.”) Furthermore, according to the Institute’s “Status of Working Families, 2012” report, released July 2013, 82% of Indiana’s college enrollees are only attending part-time, due to work and family obligations. (http://www.incap.org/documents/iiwf/2013/Status%202012%20Final.pdf, p.28)

Moreover, according to the same report, “a majority (54 percent) of all jobs are still middle‐skill jobs—requiring more than a high school diploma, but less than a four‐year degree, while only 47 percent of Hoosier workers have the appropriate skills and credentials.” (p. 26) Given all this, how is it even conceivable that Indiana will achieve the Commission for Higher Education’s goal of increasing by nearly ¾ (i.e., raising by 174.2% the percentage of college graduates who must also stay and work in Indiana to meet the Commission’s goal!) the percentage of Hoosier college graduates, especially in light of Indiana’s notorious and still-continuing Brain Drain?

This is but one example of how Indiana’s continuing mediocrity feeds upon itself and paves the way for future mediocrity; while the Hoosier agencies supposedly dealing with the problem continue to only dream, setting palpably unrealistic higher education attainment goals that can’t, and surely won’t, be met. And against the economic backdrop of Indiana’s per capita income continuing to drop due to job loss and replacement of manufacturing jobs with considerably lower-paying retail, warehouse and service jobs. With all this occurring while Hoosier income inequality vastly increases—very noticeably in Indianapolis, but also in other cities in the state. (Brian Eason, Indianapolis Star, August 11, 2014, “Report: Wage gap growing rapidly in Indy area,” http://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/hamilton-county/2014/08/11/report-wage-gap-growing-rapidly-indy-area/13900371/.)

Yet, it’s clear from the article that Indiana’s own state Economic Development Corporation and Secretary of Commerce are only “whistling in the proverbial dark” and painting overly optimistic pictures of resurgent growth in manufacturing, the mainstay of Indiana’s industrial economy, but a mainstay that has massively hemorrhaged jobs since 1999, leading to the continuing long-term drop in both wages and per capita income in the state. This traditional mainstay is being rapidly replaced, however, by low-paying warehouse jobs, filled in the great majority by temp workers contracted through temp agencies. (See on this Gregory Travis, “CIVITAS: Indiana’s warehouse economy—revisited,” Bloomington Alternative, October 19, 2008, http://bloomingtonalternative.com/articles/2008/10/19/9782; also, George Fish, examiner.com, “Extreme heat and uncertain employment—realities of Central Indiana’s job market,” November 15, 2012, http://www.examiner.com/article/extreme-heat-and-uncertain-employment-realities-of-central-indiana-s-job-market; “Amazon.com’s Whitestown, Indiana warehouse is a hell of a place to work,” January 20, 2013, http://www.examiner.com/article/amazon-com-s-whitestown-indiana-warehouse-is-a-hell-of-a-place-to-work; “Work, fatigue, frustration, and—finally!—creativity again,” May 28, 2014, http://www.examiner.com/article/work-fatigue-frustration-and-finally-creativity-again; and “Dispatch from the work shift from hell,” July 27, 2014, http://www.examiner.com/article/dispatch-from-the-work-shift-from-hell.)

Mediocrity in education, mediocrity in employment, mediocrity at the top levels of Indiana’s own state government executive—such is the true State of the State, 2014. But what is to be done about it? What will my fellow Hoosiers do about it?

I addressed this question precisely in an examiner.com article I posted on October 30, 2013, “Why do we take it?” http://www.examiner.com/article/why-do-we-take-it, where I wrote:

The short answer is, because we’re sheep. Most notably here in Indiana, where sheepishness and passivity are widespread cultural traits that Hoosierdom demands conformance to, along with the demand of not expressing “negativity.” Passivity, provincialism, smugness, complacency, conformity, cliquishness—these common Hoosier cultural traits make acceptance even of the most outrageous and injustice a “way of life” to be responded to with unbridled optimism that “things are bound to get better,” and a direct silencing of the “negative” critic who just won’t shut up—and thus disturbs everyone else!

The sentiment I expressed above was also echoed in a quote that came across on Facebook from the late distinguished radical historian Howard Zinn, 1922-2010, who wrote:

Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that numbers of people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.

Which puts strictly Hoosier mediocrity and its sheepish acceptance into a broader context, one that relates the FSSA to war, that relates war on the Hoosier poor to war on poor people worldwide, and that notes the crisis of blind obedience everywhere to such blind obedience here in Indianapolis, in Evansville, Fort Wayne and elsewhere, even in the bucolic college-town islands of Bloomington and West Lafayette. And Howard Zinn himself, who lived and taught in Boston, has a notable Indiana mediocrity connection: he was singled out by name by former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels as an “anti-American academic,” writer and thinker whose work should be specifically banned from Indiana’s public secondary schools and universities! Even as today he is President of Indiana’s Purdue University, and claims to defend academic freedom! (Fortunately, this received extensive national press coverage. See, e.g., Gawker, July 17, 2013, “Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue, Tried to Ban Howard Zinn’s Books,” http://gawker.com/mitch-daniels-president-of-purdue-tried-to-ban-howard-813676742; Joseph A. Palermo, Huffington Post, September 29, 2013, “Mitch Daniels, Howard Zinn, and the Politics of History,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-a-palermo/mitch-daniels-howard-zinn_b_3677477.html, and Mitch Daniels’ speaking in defense of himself also in the Huffington Post: Jon Ward, “Mitch Daniels: I’m ‘More Devoted to Academic Freedom’ Than Critics in Howard Zinn Controversy,” October 30, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/30/mitch-daniels-howard-zinn_n_4178180.html.)

Interestingly enough, in the above article, and despite Daniels’ claim that he wanted Zinn’s popular, widely-read (2 million copies sold) A People’s History of the United States to be banned from secondary schools only, not universities, it was the use of the book in an Indiana University humanities class that first drew it to Daniels’ attention—and ire—as Governor! This class, which could be taken by teachers for professional development credit, drew specific memos for action from Daniels himself as Governor, in direct e-mails to aides: “This crap should not be accepted for any credit by the state” and “Sounds like we need a cleanup of what is credit-worthy in 'professional development' and what is not."

But also in 2014, both the Indiana Pacers NBA basketball team and the Indianapolis Colts NFL football team lost in the playoffs. Something far more distressing to my fellow Hoosiers than statewide mediocrity, screwing over poor people, horrible lack of educated people in the state, and inability to garner truly skilled, decent-paying employment—that in itself being confirmation of continuing Indiana mediocrity!

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