Local residents -- along with state and national media outlets -- are abuzz regarding the poverty status of Brazil.
“When I first saw this, I thought there was something wrong,” said Mayor Brian Wyndham. “It’s a very short-sided view of our community.”
The numbers might be real, but Wyndham said there should have been some investigation into the overall data before running a story about the poorest community of any state.
“The facts are here,” said Wyndham, who believes the stories aren’t a real picture of the community. “A lot of this type of data is based on trends and older information. It doesn’t take into consideration the whole picture.”
Publishers of a recent 24/7WallSt.com study announced the poorest towns in every state in America. Brazil allegedly topped Indiana’s list as having “the lowest median household income of ANY TOWN in Indiana.”
That’s the first “statement” in the story Wyndham takes to task, “They are really not saying we are the poorest community. They are saying we are the poorest town, and towns are not incorporated. We’re a city.”
According to Indiana Code, a town is officially different than a city. A city must have a population of 2,000 to be classified in the three-tier system for communities differentiated primarily by population, which can be either a third-class (2,000 up to 34,999), second-class (35,000 up to 600,000) or first-class designation (above 600,000).
The 24/7WallSt.com study uses the American Community Survey (ACS) of 5-year estimates from 2012-2016, which replaced the “long form” census survey that used to be sent to households once every 10 years in the past.
Surveys are something that Wyndham is familiar with because of prior experience in the insurance industry.
“When you do mailers or that type of stuff, you don’t get a very high return,” he said. “A 3 percent return was way high, if you would even get that back. The return on those surveys has to be a minimum.”
According to the United States Census Bureau, an estimated “random sampling” of 3.5 million households are continuously selected to participate throughout the year across the U.S., the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The Census Bureau confirms the number of surveys sent during the 2012-2016 ACS 5-year study to Brazil, Indiana, was 170 households. If there were 170 households responding over four years or each of the four years, the return was very low, only 2-10 percent of the estimated local population responded to the survey.
Wyndham is familiar with the numbers provided by the Census Bureau and the ACS because the data is used to help the city formulate future plans, apply for state and federal grants, get bonds for various projects and take part in TIF (tax increment financing) programs.
The West Central Indiana Economic Development District uses the ACS data to create the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, which Clay County, and Brazil, is included with Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo counties.
“We use that information for a lot of things,” Wyndham said. “I tell you how well we are doing. We are getting these bonds and stuff, and then we are paying them off early. If you are a poor community you can’t do that, and you certainly can’t pay them off ahead of schedule.”
Wyndham also points to Brazil recently being the location for several major housing projects, new businesses expanding and others opening as well as the state’s $25-million investment in the U.S. 40 project that the study didn’t take into consideration to determine the poverty status for the community.
However, when using real data to create a study, Wyndham says it needs to be done with care. Shrinking down data, or the criteria for a study, can all of a sudden pigeonhole communities.
“It’s just like we could be the richest community in the area too, if you just flip it around,” Wyndham said about the finite data used in the study. “Because we may be the only one that fits in the box with the criteria they created.”
Wyndham confirmed the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (which works with communities to build relevant and economically thriving places where people want to live, work and grow) also uses the ACS data.
“And our numbers look great in that assessment,” he said. “When this first came out it was very disappointing to see. This community has worked very hard at being proactive. A lot of good things are happening here. There’s been a lot of industrial investment, retail investment; we are obviously growing.”
A look around the community shows Brazil is looking the best it has in years. Of course there are areas where improvement need to be done, said the mayor, who believes there are things missing in the data.
The motivation and drive behind the community to do better, to help one another in times of need, to provide a place where families want to live and raise their children, he said, are not taken into consideration.
“It sure doesn’t line up in any way shape or form with this ranking,” said Wyndham, who admits to wondering about the credibility of the study and the ranking. “Really? Is there any credible information that we can get that supports this ranking? I don’t think so.”