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What you need to know about Mike Pence's Indiana economy ahead of VP debate

Compared to the rest of the 50 states, Indiana's economy puts it just about where it sits on the U.S. map — roughly in the middle.

But in its recovery from the Great Recession, Indiana has had a longer road back than other parts of the country.

As governor since January 2013, Republican Mike Pence — the Republican vice presidential running mate of Donald Trump — will no doubt tout that record of recovery on Tuesday night during the vice presidential debate in Virginia.

Though Indiana's overall growth has lagged the national average since Pence took office, the economy sustained far greater damage during the Great Recession.

As a major supplier to the auto industry, the state's manufacturing sector got clobbered when U.S. automakers narrowly escaped bankruptcy. Elkhart, Indiana, the birthplace and heart of the nation's RV industry, in March 2009 had one of the highest jobless rates in the country at 20 percent, double the national average.

Since then, the state's job market has staged a strong recovery, though the pace of payroll growth since Pence took office has slightly lagged the national recovery. Still, the Hoosier State's jobless rate had fallen to 4.5 percent as of August, the latest data available. That's a bit lower than the U.S. rate of 4.9 percent.

Of course, a governor's economic policies don't take hold immediately. That's why governors (and presidents) are quick to take credit for strong economies they inherit and ready to heap blame on their predecessors when things are going badly.

But Pence has 3 ½ years managing the state's budget and economy, so he can rightfully take credit (or accept blame) for what's happened since.


Aside from Indiana's economic recovery, Pence can also get some credit for balancing the state's budget discipline and keeping debt low.

State governments from Alaska to Connecticut are facing huge unfunded liabilities from years of not setting aside enough money to cover the cost of retirement and health-care benefits promised to current and future public employees.

Indiana, by contrast, ranks among the lowest in the nation in overall debt and unfunded liabilities, on a per-person basis.

Residents of Indiana also have a relatively low state and local tax burden compared to the rest of the country. The average household in the state paid $3,585 in state and local taxes in 2012, the latest data available, compared with a U.S. average of $4,420, according to the Tax Foundation.

The state gets low marks on wages; the average Hoosier household had a median annual wage of $32,910 in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 35th lowest in the country.

Pence and the GOP-controlled legislature have opposed Democrats' calls for a higher state minimum wage.