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Study shows disparities between Indiana counties in personal, economic well-being


INDIANAPOLIS — According to a new study by the IU Public Policy Institute, Indiana counties are experiencing disparities as some show relative strength in personal and economic well-being while their counterparts struggle.

The findings are featured in the Community Vitality Index, the latest brief of the institute’s Thriving Communities, Thriving State project.

For the brief, John Marron, senior policy analyst at the institute, replicated a similar national index conducted by The New York Times in 2014. Pairing Indiana-specific data with the Thriving Communities framework, Marron evaluated how community vitality is represented in urban, rural and midsized communities and in 11 regions around the state.

Data was tailored around each county’s estimated housing costs relative to median household income, education attainment, unemployment rate, disability benefits use rate, life expectancy and obesity.

“It’s immediately apparent how well counties with midsized communities fare relative to urban and rural counties,” said Marron. “Perhaps what is more interesting, however, is seeing the impact of regional hubs within regions. The Indianapolis, Evansville, Fort Wayne and South Bend regions fare relatively well throughout their entire regions, while the Muncie and Terre Haute regions seem to be experiencing greater challenges. This would be unsurprising if the index only included economic measures, but the measures seem to hold true across measures of health and well-being as well.”

Other key findings include:

  • Midsized counties collectively perform exceedingly well on these measures relative to rural and urban communities.
  • Educational attainment in rural areas lags behind urban and midsized communities, contributing considerably to greater economic challenges.
  • Residents of urban areas spend substantially more of their incomes on housing than those in rural or midsized counties.
  • Communities adjacent to urban areas; university centers; and areas with robust, specialized manufacturing industries appear to be faring well.
  • Areas that lost considerable employment with the decline of the manufacturing sector and rural counties not proximate to major metropolitan areas experience the greatest degree of challenges.
  • Indiana’s larger regional centers (Indianapolis, Evansville, Fort Wayne and South Bend) anchor thriving regions that benefit surrounding counties and the state as a whole.
  • Regions historically centered on manufacturing and regions with their central city located outside of the state fare less well than other regions.

Thriving Communities, Thriving State is a project of the Policy Choices Initiative. The goal of the Policy Choices Initiative is to encourage discussions among government, nonprofit and private sector leaders about issues that are or will be critical to Indiana’s future — to provide policy options for action.