Downtown Indianapolis, Indiana
Just ten years ago, Indiana was poised to lead the nation in clean tech jobs. Now it is facing a human rights crisis that threatens to become a full-blown economic disaster, thanks to a restrictive abortion ban enacted earlier this month. It will be difficult to reverse the ban. However, in a strange twist, the climate change provisions in the newly signed Inflation Reduction Act could help Indiana employers lobby for a return to sanity.
Indiana abortion ban adds fuel to the brain drain fire
The full impact of Indiana’s new abortion law is yet to be seen. However, all abortion bans create a separate class of citizens whose human and civil rights are secondary. In that regard, the new law already puts Indiana employers at a disadvantage for recruiting and retaining top talent. It pulls the rug right out from under their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Employers in Indiana are particularly vulnerable because the state ranks low in higher education, and the new abortion ban is all but certain to make matters worse.
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Professor Michael J. Hicks, who is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University, summed up the situation in an op-ed last week. “Recall that Indiana’s workforce ranks near the bottom in educational attainment,” he wrote. “Worse, we’ve seen the college going rate drop a whopping 12 percentage points in just six years.”
Hicks added: “This puts us in the realm of the most economically fragile states in the Union — Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia — and just below Puerto Rico. This matters because nine out of 10 college-age people nationwide prefer more expansive abortion access than Indiana now has.”
Indiana is not the only state at risk from the economic fallout of abortion bans, but Hicks emphasized that it is especially vulnerable.
“Businesses locate where they can access abundant workers of the types they need…They come for the right workers, of which we have far too few,” Hicks warned.
“Over the past three decades, more than 80 percent of job growth nationally has gone to college-educated workers. As that trend continues, which it will, Indiana is now at a fraught disadvantage,” he explained.
Connecting the public opinion dots
Overall, Hicks made the case for using public opinion surveys as a guidepost for assessing the economic impacts of any statewide abortion ban.
If that argument holds up, employers in Indiana and other abortion-banning states are in serious trouble.
CNBC reporter Morgan Smith took a deep dive into the details last Friday, citing a survey conducted by the nonprofit women’s empowerment organization LeanIn.org.
“Seventy-six percent of women are concerned that the overturn of Roe is going to hurt their careers, according to new research from LeanIn.Org, which surveyed 3,196 U.S. workers last month. This sentiment is even stronger among women under 40 (84 percent) and women of color (82 percent),” she observed.
LeanIn.org used the SurveyMonkey Audience platform to conduct the survey. If that skewed the responses to some degree, it is still consistent with other findings.
“More than half of U.S. workers (56 percent) wouldn’t even consider taking a job at a company that didn’t share their values according to a Qualtrics survey, which polled 1,178 employees in April,” Smith noted.
“LeanIn.Org’s new report and other recent research highlight a growing desire among employees to work for a company that aligns with their values, both personal and political,” she added.
Indiana employers and the Inflation Reduction Act
These surveys don’t necessarily reflect the actual ability of workers to pick up and move on account of an abortion ban. However, if even a fraction of workers and college students follow through on their sentiments, Indiana is especially at risk.
“The problem is that Indiana has few economic advantages that are relevant to the 21st century,” Professor Hicks noted in his op-ed. “None that we have are sufficient to overcome policies that alienate the vast majority of the mobile, highly-educated young people we so desperately need.”
Hicks also warned that the Republican supermajority in the Indiana legislature has taken an anti-business tack that will push some businesses out of the state.
For those unable to leave, Hicks gently suggests that political activism is the only answer.
“Some businesses cannot leave and will surely look to support more business-friendly voices across the state,” he wrote.
That is easier said than done. Considering the hot mess of religion, misogyny and white supremacy boiling through the anti-abortion movement, fact-based conversations about basic human and civil rights are simply impossible.
Nevertheless, there is a way for employers to talk about the rights of pregnant people in Indiana, without being drawn into a bottomless pit of misplaced morality.
Now that the Inflation Reduction Act has been signed into law, employers can leverage it to lobby for a new clean tech renaissance in Indiana.
The legislation is a massive package of new funding for renewable energy, energy efficiency and other initiatives that help reduce carbon emissions. If Indiana lawmakers are going to ensure that Indiana gets its fair share, they will need to demonstrate that they are serious about administering one of the biggest economic development initiatives in U.S. history.
So far, of course, they have failed dismally
State lawmakers rushed the new abortion ban through in a hastily convened special session, despite behind-the-scenes lobbying by Eli Lilly, Cummins and other businesses leaders that warned of the economic impacts.
Meanwhile, Indiana’s Republican representatives in Congress failed to support the Inflation Reduction Act. They voted in a block against a massive influx of federal dollars into their own state.
That partisan breakdown provides a rational, fact-based, emotion-free platform for business leaders to advocate for electing more Democrats into state and federal offices.
As Election Day 2022 draws near, the Republicans who voted against the Inflation Reduction Act have all but forced Indiana business leaders to choose a side. They can advocate for Democratic leadership on the basis of economic progress in the broadest possible terms, including equal rights for all.
Image credit: Ryan De Hamer via Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.