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Ball State economist predicts lower economic growth in 2022, more remote workers

Stephanie Wiechmann/IPR

Ball State University’s economist says COVID-19 is still affecting the economy and will likely do so through 2022. As IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, the most visible sign could be a continuing increase in the number of jobs done remotely.Because of the pandemic, U.S. data shows as much as 30 percent of work is now remote.

“The labor force shock of COVID is worse than all the previous downturns since the end of World War II combined," says Ball State economist Michael Hicks.

Hicks expects about one in six workers will continue some type of full-time or part-time remote work.

And he says Indiana’s rural counties might look more attractive without a daily commute.

“If I’m working in downtown Indianapolis at Salesforce today, Fishers is a long ways away – it’s a 45-minute commute. If I’m now completely remote, all of a sudden Portland looks just fine. I can buy a lot bigger home, I can send my kids to an ‘A’ school. I can have a hobby farm in Portland and commute to work one day a week.”

Hicks says Indiana would be in a good position to attract more remote workers over the next 20 years if the state increases broadband connectivity, invests in local schools, and sees more Hoosiers get education beyond high school.

Hicks’s annual economic forecast predicts the US economy will grow between 2 and 2.5 percent next year – back to the levels seen in 2017. Indiana will grow less, he says, at around 1.4 percent.

What won’t drop back, Hicks says, are the recent price increases for goods and services. He expects those to be permanent.

East Central Indiana

In East Central Indiana, Hicks expects COVID-affected work sectors to continue to have more muted growth in 2022. This includes retail, hospitality, and entertainment. Construction is also expected to continue to decline, which he says is a trend in the entire country.

This region of Indiana will continue to see population declines, despite the increase in remote work opportunities. Except for Madison County, says Hicks. The economist says Madison County is seeing an increase in population because of the expanding reach of the Indianapolis metropolitan area. Western Henry County and western Delaware County could also see growth.