A week ago I wrote about Rochester’s “Stellar Communities” bid, to be one of two Indiana communities to be awarded significant grant funds from three different state agencies. (You can read that here.)
It was an intriguing and well-done presentation, and everyone still has their fingers crossed. But one particular slide from their power-point presentation really caught my attention, for a different reason.
A slide entitled “Fulton County Economic Climate” compared Fulton County to the Indiana average and the national average in seven different economic indicators, and few of them were favorable.
Unemployment in Fulton County is 12.2%, compared to 10.1% in Indiana and 9.0% nationally.
While the rest of America grew in population by 8.3% and Indiana by 5.6% from 2000-2009, Fulton County actually lost population, by 1.2%. As everyone knows, it is the young people who are leaving. The average age of a Fulton County resident, 40.2, is almost 4 years above the national average. That translates to a workforce with a relatively smaller number of wage-earners and a relatively larger number of retirees on fixed income.
Only 80.2% of Fulton County adults are high school graduates, compared to 82% in Indiana and 86.7% nationally. Only 10.3% of Fulton County adults have 2- or 4-year college degrees, compared to 19.4% in Indiana and 29.5% nationally.
Given that composition of the workforce, it is not surprising that Fulton County’s income trails that of the state and nation. Median household income in Fulton County is about 92% of the national average, $45,964 to $50,221. The gap in per capita income is even greater -- $30,387 to $40,166. Obviously, Fulton County residents are more likely than most Americans to live in two-income households. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
And lower-than-average income isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the cost of living is equally low. Certainly, the low cost of labor in Indiana is one of the “selling points” that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation touts in attempting to attract investment in our state.
Regardless, numbers like this point out how challenged all rural communities are these days. And these numbers are for all of Fulton County, and so include the physicians at Woodlawn Hospital and the other professionals concentrated in Rochester. Surely the number for the two Fulton County townships – and the four townships in Kosciusko County -- that feed into Tippecanoe Valley lag even further behind national averages in some of these key indicators.
I share these numbers with my friends from Valley not to beat anyone up or paint a picture of despair, but to illustrate a reality that our friends and former neighbors are facing. Rochester’s “Stellar Communities” presentation had to strike a balance, between the pride and enthusiastic boosterism of those in the room, and making the case that Fulton County needs this grant to make these improvements.
That single power point slide contained a lot of sobering information about how different the economic realities are for small town and rural communities. When 50% of Americans live in the 52 cities of a million or more, and 30% live in cities between 25,000 and 999,999, it becomes possible for the mere 20% who live where we grew up to become outliers, who's situation doesn't fit the "norm" which public policy addresses. We can't let that be the case.