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Study finds low- and middle-income Hoosier families struggling

The Indiana flag. Indiana ranked 31 in the Prosperity Now Scorecard that looks at opportunities to build wealth.

More than 14 percent of Hoosiers with debt are struggling to pay their bills and are 90 days or more behind on payment.

A new study by Prosperity Now found that many low- and middle-income Hoosier families are struggling to get by, despite a growing economy and low unemployment rate. About 25 percent of Hoosiers, for instance, have student loans with a median debt burden of $17,457, and 17.8 percent of them are severely delinquent.

Overall, Indiana ranked 31st on the Prosperity Now Scorecard, up from 32nd place last year. The annual assessment by the Washington D.C.-based think tank looks at "Americans’ ability to save and build wealth, stay out of poverty and create a more prosperous future."

The study found the richest 20 percent of households in Indiana earn 4.4 times as much as the poorest 20 percent. Indiana has the second most affordable homes in the country, but the third worst entrepreneurial rate with only 14.2 percent of workers owning small companies and the ninth lowest rate of college attainment with only 25.6 percent of the population having at least a bachelor's degree.

“Our research shows that there are troubling signs beneath the economic surface,” Prosperity Now President Andrea Levere said. “Income inequality continues to worsen. Affordable housing is harder to find. Most disturbingly, racial disparities persist. And none of these problems are improved when our federal government chooses to invest in the wealthiest Americans and corporations in the form of tax cuts. Given the federal government’s recent actions to change the tax code, it is imperative that lawmakers in Indiana invest in the state’s most financially vulnerable residents. Such investments begin with strong policies.

Unemployment in the state is the lowest in more than a decade, pay is increasing slightly and only 19.4 percent of homeowners spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. But many are being left behind — nearly 17 percent of white households and 47.2 percent of black households have zero or negative net worth, which means they owe more than they own.

“At a time when federal policymakers seem increasingly indifferent — or even hostile — to the economic futures of low- and moderate-income Americans, good policy at the state and local levels is more important than ever,” said Solana Rice, director of state and local policy for Prosperity Now. “While some states have made progress, it’s clear we need to do much more to help families achieve financial stability and long-term prosperity.”

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Business reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.