Indiana again near the bottom of per capita income

The Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. Indiana ranked in 38th in per capita income last year, for the third year in a row.

Indiana's personal per capita income remains mired near the bottom nationally, according to new U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data. 

The state's per capita income was $40,998 last year, which was 38th in the United States. The average Hoosier makes just 86 percent of the national average salary of $47,669.

Indiana has been 38th in the nation for three straight years, and that's the same rank it had in 2005. Neighboring Illinois, meanwhile, has an average per capita income of $49,471, which is 16th in the nation and higher than the national average.

"Even though Indiana unemployment is lower than the national level, it hasn't made any significant improvement in personal income," said Andrew Bradley, senior policy analyst for Indiana Institute for Working Families.

"Unfortunately, it's been rough for Hoosiers to get back to work since the recession."

Though Indiana's unemployment has been under 5 percent, many good-paying jobs that disappeared during the downturn have been replaced with lower-paying jobs in retail and service industries. 

"With the low-quality service jobs, I like to liken it to how you can get filled up on too much Easter candy," he said. "You need something more nutritious, and more high-quality."

The Indiana Economic Development Corp., the state's commerce agency, has shifted focus from attracting any type of new jobs, including low-paying warehouse positions, to luring high-skill, high-paying jobs.

The IEDC said the average wage promised by a company it gave incentives to, rose to $24.87 last year from $21.75 in 2014.

State officials often say the state's 38th-ranked income isn't as bad as it sounds since the cost of living is lower in Indiana, but the cost of living is even cheaper in the neighboring states of Ohio and Illinois, Bradley said.

The problem of low income in Indiana has been persistent. Indiana, the 16th most populous state in the nation, ranked 21st nationally in per capita income in the 1950s, but the decline has been steady ever since. 

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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.