The Indiana ZIP codes with the highest and lowest levels of poverty are both in Allen County, according to census data analyzed by UnitedStatesZipCodes.org.
A distance of roughly 11 miles separates the centers of the 46803 and 46765 postal codes, but they are worlds apart in many ways.
Nearly 51% of the residents of the 46803, on the southeast side of Fort Wayne, live below the poverty line, compared with only 0.7% of the residents of the 46765, in the rural Leo-Cedarville area. The statewide poverty rate is 13.5%.
UnitedStatesZipCodes.org describes the 803's population as primarily African American with large numbers of single parents and young adults. Many of the area's houses were built before 1940 and are rented. The share of residents without high school diplomas – 30% – is among the highest in the nation.
The website describes the 765's residents as primarily white, with a large number of families and a small number of single adults. Most houses were built after 1990 and are owned or have mortgages. The share of residents who have attended college – 52% – is among the highest in the nation.
The economic gap between the ZIP codes apparently is widening. UnitedStatesZipCodes.org reported that the 765's poverty rate decreased by half, from 1.5% in the previous year's analysis, while the 803's rate increased. Previously, the 803 had the state's fourth-highest poverty rate, and the 765 had the third-lowest rate.
A spokeswoman for UnitedStatesZipCodes.org said the organization knows of no other state where the highest and lowest poverty rates are in the same county.
ZIP stands for Zone Improvement Plan. The five-digit codes have been used since 1963 by the U.S. Postal Service to group mail for delivery to geographic areas. UnitedStatesZipCodes.org calls itself “the most comprehensive resource” for ZIP code data including information from the Postal Service, U.S. Census Bureau, Yahoo, Google, FedEx and UPS.
The U.S. Census Bureau determines the poverty level based on before-tax annual income, consumer prices and household size. It ranges from $12,490 for a single person to $25,750 for a family of four to $43,430 for a family of eight.
Indiana has hundreds of ZIP codes. What, if anything, does this huge discrepancy in the poverty rates of two ZIP codes in Allen County say about income inequality locally? And what, if anything, should be done about it, and by whom?
The Journal Gazette put those questions to some community leaders. Their emailed responses have been edited for space and clarity.
Steve Hoffman, president and CEO of Brightpoint, a Fort Wayne-based anti-poverty organization:
“I think generally we underestimate the problem of geography and spatial mismatch. As our community has increasingly invested in the north and west, it has been accompanied by a corresponding disinvestment in the southeast. Meaning, as businesses have located in the north and west, businesses have left southeast. This has of course been accompanied by population and infrastructure moving as well.
“For the folks that have been left behind, geography now becomes a major problem. High-paying jobs are now significant distances away. People now leave their neighborhoods for key resources like food and child care. In our community, having a car is not a luxury, it is a true basic need. The recent release of ZIP code data is not new. It is something we've all been witnessing for years.
“We need to aggressively promote investment in southeast Fort Wayne. We need to upgrade our housing stock and promote the development of high quality and affordable housing in all areas of Fort Wayne. There is a stigma about what 'affordable housing' means that is not accurate, and we need to defeat that stigma and create opportunities for lower-income families to live in all areas of our county.
“We need to target small-business development in the southeast; in particular along the Anthony, Calhoun, and Pontiac corridors. ... We need to find ways to create greater access to transportation so that families living in any part of our county can compete for jobs anywhere in the county. And we of course need to promote access to high quality education for all ages.”
John Urbahns, president and CEO of Greater Fort Wayne, an economic development organization:
“It says we have work to do as a community. It'll take time, and it'll take a broad-based effort from both the private and public sectors, which has already begun.”
Urbahns gave as examples: Greater Fort Wayne helped organize visits to Detroit and Louisville to study how those cities have worked to revitalize underserved neighborhoods. The city government is updating its Southeast Area Development Strategy, adopted in 2007. The Summit City Match program is attracting businesses to an area bordering the 46803. Affordable housing additions in southeast Fort Wayne include Bottle Works Lofts, Renaissance Pointe and the Posterity Heights Scholar House.
Urbahns also said Greater Fort Wayne has joined with educators and businesses for the MadeByMe program.
“In that program, business leaders are speaking to high school students, highlighting career opportunities in the skilled trades and advanced manufacturing, which have higher average compensation than the county average. That works hand-in-hand with college prep programs, so students understand all of their post-secondary options and can choose the right one for them.
“And many more partners are contributing in their particular areas of expertise. We have and will continue to provide assistance and remove barriers when needed and appropriate. It's also critically important that, as a community, we're always empowering residents to play a role, and that resident input is used in decisions that affect them.”
Sharon Tucker, County Council representative for southeast Fort Wayne and City Council representative-elect for that area:
“The staggering gap in poverty rates between 46803 and 46765 says something about society's lack of attention given to the continual widening of the margin between haves and have nots.
“It is in our best interest – both public and private sectors – that something be done to close the distance between the economic ceiling and floor.
“It also says something about the concentration of poverty into one part of the county. Whether it is by design or habit, practices like locating the majority of low- to moderate-income housing in one part of the larger community has broader consequences.”
Roger Reece, executive pastor of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County:
“Associated Churches Food Bank System recognizes that to truly improve health, we need to embrace that health is created by the mental, physical, social and spiritual dimensions of our lives interacting together in a beautiful and complex whole and created in context of community.
“In addition, if we are to move the needle on health outcomes in our community, it can't be done without dedicated focus on healthy equality. Two children just a few miles apart shouldn't have dramatically different life expectancies. That being said, it is a moral imperative that our community needs to address, and we do with all kinds of services in certain demographic areas.
“I'm pleased to report that focused initiatives are underway that go far beyond the comfort zone of most health systems, to the promising work being done to build holistic community health partnerships. These partnerships will help us learn real world examples of what it means to walk on this journey to whole person, whole community health and well-being.”
Of the dozen Indiana ZIP codes with the highest poverty rates, three are in Allen County, according to UnitedStatesZipCodes.org. In addition to 46803, the neighboring 46806 in southeast Fort Wayne is ninth highest at 38.9%, and the 46802 in central and southwest Fort Wayne is 12th highest at 37.6%.
Allen County's 46845 ZIP code, which is south and west of the 765, has the state's 20th lowest poverty rate, 3.6%.