• Josh Cox

Stagnant wages, struggling farms, and crippling medical bills: On rural and small-town Indiana

As our organization begins to gain some traction (see our first newspaper article here!), we have received incredible support. We've already had folks in nearly 20 of Indiana's 92 counties inquire about running for office, and hundreds of have subscribed to our newsletter and indicated a willingness to give your time and money to our efforts. One thing that has really stuck out to me, though, is many folks' insistence that this can't work because Indiana is "too rural" or "too backward." The prevailing thought seems to be that progressive policies are for places like Chicago and New York, not for rural and small-town America. This will undoubtedly be a common trope that will be certainly difficult to overcome, but I feel the need to address it immediately based upon some of the reactions we've seen thus far. (I also feel the need to point out that Illinois and New York are not the progressive states many claim, but that is neither here nor there.) A 2013 study from Purdue Extension highlighted some truly devastating trends: "According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the Indiana poverty rate has increased substantially from approximately 9.5% in 2000 to 15.3% in 2010...between 2010 and 2011, the percentage of people in poverty increased to 16%, or over 1 million people [in Indiana] living in poverty. Most worrisome, in the first decade of the 21st century, poverty became more widespread in rural Indiana. The number of rural residents living in poverty increased by 44% from 74,300 in 2000 to 107,000 in 2010. Almost one out of eight rural residents lived in poverty by 2010." Furthermore, a 2020 study from Farm Aid found that "things have been bad in farm country for a while. Between 2013 and 2018, farmers experienced a nearly 50% drop in net farm income as the prices for corn, wheat, dairy, beef, and other farm products crashed...Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, covering Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin, reports the share of farm loans with 'major' or 'severe' repayment problems is now at 8.3%--a level not seen since 1988."

As wages go, 3.3% of Indiana workers (just over 200,000 people) are making the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, despite the fact that a living wage in Indiana for a single adult with no children is $14.07 per hour. Looking at statewide data, 9 of Indiana's 92 counties (Owen, Parke, Hancock, Clay, Morgan, Cass, and Elkhart experienced reduced average wages in 2019). It is worth noting that none of this data takes into account the devastating impact of the COVID19 pandemic.

Finally, we cannot discuss financial concerns in the United States without mentioning the absurd cost of healthcare. Medical debt is the number 1 cause of bankruptcy in the U.S., and naturally, Indiana has been no stranger to the country's disastrous healthcare ecosystem. A dive into 2019 data by Modern Healthcare found that "healthcare costs for Indiana residents have far outpaced other costs over a 20-year span, rising from $4,207 a year in inflation-adjusted dollars in 1997 to $7,962 in 2017. The typical Hoosier spends 4.4% more of their annual income on healthcare than the average American." Over 50,000 people in Indiana alone currently have medical debt at or exceeding $10,000. This is unacceptable and wholly unnecessary. While social and traditional media are filled with hotly-contested culture wars and talk of "cancel culture," millions of people are drowning in medical debt, family farms are being killed off by massive conglomerates, and wages continue to remain stagnant while the cost of living continues to rise. While the federal government fails miserably at even getting out a measly $1,400 check (that was originally $2,000???), millions are facing eviction and unsure of where their next meal is coming from. While our state legislature rejects proposals to appropriate a pathetic $500,000 to food banks, millions of dollars in tax breaks are being offered to benefit corporations. Rather than writing off "red states" or "red counties" as being filled with ignorant racists, we must see them for what they truly are: they are our neighbors, our teachers, our farmers, our friends. Instead of sitting back and complaining that the government will never work for us, or that some people can never be convinced, we must go forward with bold initiatives that will truly help all of our people. This is why we're fighting for a minimum wage increase, Medicare for All, and more protections for working-class folks. Because we can no longer succumb to the temptations of incrementalism that allow for continued complacency in spite of record levels of pain and suffering. And because we can no longer allow an out-of-touch political class to enact rules that only benefit the wealthy and well-connected. We understand the road ahead is an arduous one, but the fight for a better Indiana rages on, and it starts with us. We hope you'll help us lead the way.