The Indiana Republican Party doesn’t want you here.
Unless you’re white, male, cisgender and straight Republicans in Indiana have made it clear you’re not a priority. Bonus points if you’re wealthy.
In a 2019 study conducted by the U.S. Senate Joint Economic Committee, Indiana ranked among the worst at retaining highly educated people with a 17.8% gross brain drain gap, a phenomenon characterized by the loss of highly educated people from a particular place. Brain drain makes it difficult for states to retain talent, as well as negatively affecting state tax revenue and increasing social segregation. It comes as no surprise that Indiana suffers from significant brain drain.
Regressive policy choices from Indiana’s Republican supermajority targeting people of color, women and the working class from birth until death are forcing young and highly educated people to leave Indiana for states that can provide better life outcomes.
Lane Wolf, a 2020 IU graduate and native Hoosier, explained their current dilemma about remaining in Indiana. They said that despite loving Bloomington and Indianapolis, recent legislation has forced them to consider jobs in other states where a welcoming environment and higher pay aren’t figments of their imagination.
“It’s an issue that Indiana lawmakers do not seem to be concerned about — what is going to benefit people of color, poor people and young people in the state?” Wolf said. “Instead, they are really digging their heels into this, like, Midwestern ideology.”
Wolf specifically noted SB141, a bill drastically defunding Indianapolis’ public transit system, as a reason for their newfound considerations. As an avid user of IndyGo, they said the thought of reduced hours and stop offerings is worrisome.
These concerns are shared across most young people, according to a survey from Transportation for America, a progressive transportation advocacy organization. Nearly 66% of young people cite high quality transportation as a top three criteria when moving to a new city. Unfortunately, widespread high speed rails do not exist in Indiana, nor does viable public transit to and from cities like Bloomington and Indianapolis.
Other concerns young people have include the environment, racism and health care. The Republican-led Indiana legislature is doing nothing to address these concerns. Frankly, legislative priorities point in the opposite direction. Policy on climate change includes a bill introduced this session deregulating wetland protections. There’s little hope for anti-racist initiatives in Indiana, considering Indiana Republican legislators booed and harassed Indiana Black Legislative Caucus members Feb. 18 while caucus members voiced objection to a bill.
Advocates for Indiana typically tout the low cost of living as a great reason to stay. It’s true — compared to the rest of the country, Indiana ranks as the 10th cheapest place to live.
Low taxes are supposedly another draw. Yet, research from the Institute on Taxation and Poverty revealed that Indiana has the 24th lowest state and local tax levy on the top 1%, while low-income families have the eighth highest tax burden in the country.
Young people are forced to decide if cheap rent and low taxes is worth a loss in reproductive justice, public education and countless other fundamental rights. Perhaps living in Indiana is only worth it if you are privileged enough to not have your worth defined by a group of mostly white men in Indianapolis.
If Indiana intends on keeping young people, serious changes in legislative priorities are needed because brain drain can and will get worse. Pew Research Center data indicates that young people are more diverse than prior generations, but Republican policy priorities are only aimed at improving white, male, cisgender and straight lives. Without access to clean air and water, well-paying jobs and equitable opportunities to thrive, there is no hope for Indiana’s future.
“I wish Indiana lawmakers were looking out for Hoosiers instead of Hoosier businesses,” Wolf said. “I wish they were investing in education. I wish they were investing in transportation. I wish they were investing in righting the wrongs of the past and providing more opportunities to people of color. And I wish there was a plan for the future.”
Editor’s note: Lane Wolf is a former employee of the Indiana Daily Student.
Alessia Modjarrad (she/her) is a junior studying economic consulting and law and public policy. She is the president of the College Democrats of Indiana and works as a political operative on various Democratic campaigns.