State Senator Barry Ballyhoo called last week.

“How ya doin’, boy?” He asked the familiar question during this era of sequestration. “OK,” was my reply.

“Well, youngster,” he said. “I was ruminatin’ about this here computer Census. We done filled out our on-line form. T’wasn’t any problem. But it done left me wonderin’ if anybody really cares.”

“Oh, Senator, you can bet they do,” I replied. Then I repeated the many reasons Hoosiers have a stake in the Census: the federal and state money distributed by formulas using population data, the drawing of political boundaries, and not incidentally, the issuance of permits by the alcohol and tobacco commission.

“Yes, yes, I know all that,” he said impatiently. “But do Hoosiers care? Does it bother them last week’s figures show 55 of our 92 counties shrank in population between the Census in 2010 and the estimates for 2019?”

“Well, sir,” I answered. It depends…..”

“Oh, Lord,” Barry shouted. “I shoulda known better than ask an economist a question he could answer, ‘it depends’. The disturbing facts are 37 counties gained population by 299,000 people and the 55 losers lost 57,200.”

“But,” I tried to say.

“But nothing,” he shot back. “Those losses are fewer than the additional 60,000 people crammed into Marion County alone. Six counties had increases of ten% or more, while the state grew by just 3.7% since 2010. Five of those six were in the ring around Marion County; the sixth was Tippecanoe.”

“True,” I agreed.

“The problem, young fella,” he insisted, “is the Failing 50 of those 55 losing counties lost less than 2,000 in those years; that’s a mere 200 a year.”

“No, sir,” I broke in. “That’s 222 on average in nine years. It just more than four persons, maybe a whole family, per week”

“Do we really care, my friend?” he continued, “And look at those remaining Flailing Five losing counties: Madison (Anderson), Wayne (Richmond), Delaware (Muncie), Grant (Marion), and Lake (Gary-Hammond).”

“Yes, sir,” I said with continuing deference.

Suddenly, his emotions erupted. “Those were among the proudest, progressive, distinguished places in our state. Now, they’re strugglin’, they’re battlin’, they’re fightin’ decay.”

“You’re just discovering this?” I asked. “Your Indiana General Assembly, in desperation, throws money for the latest fads (now it’s ‘quality of place’) to every so-called multi-county region. In Lake County it’s a century-old rail line extension.

“What would you do?” Barry challenged.

“Put every available dollar into education and infrastructure,” I said firmly. “That means effectively involving the under-educated and well-educated parents who do not demand higher academic quality. Stop construction of more glorious sports facilities. Reinvigorate teachers who drift into fatalistic cynicism.”

Before I could get to my tirade on water systems, sewerage, roads and the environment, the Senator hung up.

For me, just another day in isolation.

 

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