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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, September 17, 2017 1:00 am

Incomes in city lagging national, state levels

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne's median household income rose slightly in 2016 but still lags state and national income levels, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data.

The median income for Fort Wayne households grew from $44,977 in 2015 to $45,236 last year, a 1 percent increase. The Indiana median income was $52,314 last year, and the U.S. median was $57,617.

The median is the middle point in two equal sets of numbers – meaning there were equal numbers of Fort Wayne households whose income was above and below $45,236. The Census Bureau counted 103,942 households in the Summit City last year.

The city's poverty rate climbed from 17.1 percent in 2015 to 19 percent last year. Indiana's poverty rate was 14.1 percent last year, and the U.S. rate was 14 percent, and each was lower than in the previous year.

Allen County's median household income and poverty rate were better than Fort Wayne's but still worse than state and national figures. More than 54,400 residents of Allen County lived below the poverty level last year, with more than 48,600 of them living in Fort Wayne.

The numbers continue a trend: Local incomes have not kept pace with state and national paychecks for many years.

“We have lost some our higher-paying jobs, and the jobs that have come in after have not paid as well,” said Rachel Blakeman, director of IPFW's Community Research Institute.

Blakeman mentioned the loss of about 1,400 high-paying jobs at Navistar and 360 at Harris Corp. in recent years. Also, she noted, new hires earn much less money than veteran workers at the General Motors pickup assembly plant in southwest Allen County under a labor agreement between GM and the United Auto Workers union.

Fort Wayne appears to fare better economically when compared with similarly sized cities in neighboring states. Its 2016 median household income was $563 less than that in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but higher than the incomes in Indianapolis, South Bend, Toledo and Dayton. Fort Wayne's poverty rate was a tad higher than Indianapolis' 18.9 percent but much lower than the rates in the four other cities.

Local community leaders have studied Des Moines, Iowa, as a vibrant urban area. Des Moines' median household income of $49,203 was higher than Fort Wayne's, and its poverty rate of 16.2 percent was lower.

Steve Hoffman, chief executive officer at Brightpoint, said the Fort Wayne-based anti-poverty organization uses census data when deciding where to target its programs but prefers to “dig down as deep as we can,” to township and census-tract levels. Brightpoint conducts its own surveys, too.

Hoffman said poverty is worse than census numbers suggest because those living under the poverty level “are the very poorest of the poor,” he said.

“What studies have shown (that) people need to be economically self-sufficient is about twice what the federal poverty standard is,” Hoffman said about household incomes. He said as many as 40 percent of Allen County residents are not at a self-sufficient income level.

The 2016 federal poverty level was an annual income of $11,770 for a household of one, rising to $24,250 for a household of four and $40,890 for a household of eight.

All races earned less and suffered higher poverty rates in Fort Wayne than in Indiana and the United States in 2016, but the widest discrepancies were among Asians. The Asian poverty rate was 11.8 percent nationwide, 23 percent in Indiana and 37.2 percent in Fort Wayne, which has a large population of Burmese refugees.

Census figures show 51.7 percent of Asian households in Fort Wayne are limited-English speakers, compared with 25.9 percent of Asian households across the country. Nearly 45 percent of Asians nationally have high school diplomas, and more than 53 percent have college bachelor's degrees; in Fort Wayne, less than 45 percent of Asians completed high school and only 28.2 percent have bachelor's degrees.

Data can be accessed at the American Factfinder link of New American Community Survey Statistics for States and Local Areas at www.census.gov.

bfrancisco@jg.net