A map detailing the Indiana University Public Policy Institute's Community Vitality Index, showing Fayette County as one of the more challenged counties in the state.(Provided)
A map detailing the Indiana University Public Policy Institute's Community Vitality Index, showing Fayette County as one of the more challenged counties in the state.(Provided)
The struggles of Fayette County such as unemployment, education, health and poverty are not new to residents.

A new report released this week by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute, however, breaks down not only those struggles but how common they are with other rural counties, in addition to showing what some of the factors are in creating a thriving community in Indiana.

The report, titled the "Community Vitality Index," is the latest portion of the IU Public Policy Institute's Thriving Communities, Thriving State initiative, and it helps illustrate the disparities between counties statewide while showing why some struggle, while others grow strong.

Based off of a similar report done by The New York Times last year, the report conducted by John Marron, senior policy analyst for the IU Public Policy Institute, evaluated what the report termed "community vitality" in 11 regions statewide encompassing urban, rural and mid-sized communities.

Taken into account for the report was the estimated housing costs relative to median household income, educational attainment, unemployment rates, disability benefits use rates, obesity and life expectancy.

"It's immediately apparent how well counties with mid-sized communities fare relative to urban and rural counties," Marron said in a statement Friday. "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."

When in came to Fayette County, the report specifically mentioned it — along with Blackford, Clay, Crawford, Fulton, Greene, Lawrence, Miami, Orange, Owen, Scott, Starke and Vermillion — as one of the most challenged statewide when it comes to community vitality.

"Overwhelmingly, counties in the most challenged tier are rural," the report reads. "In most cases, these counties not only have modest economic activity, they are distant from major metropolitan centers, making it more challenging to benefit from economic opportunities elsewhere in the state. These counties suffer from lower educational attainment than the state, which in turn contributes to lower incomes and higher rates of unemployment, hindering economic development efforts."

Part of the reason for that in Fayette County, the report cites, is also due to the decline of manufacturing jobs. According to the report, the county — in 2010 — had lost approximately 85 percent of its manufacturing jobs that once existed in 1990, contributing to the county's "most challenged status."

Other factors playing a role in Fayette County's standing, per the report, included the following:

  • A median household income of $37,391, ranking it 92 out of 92 Indiana counties.
  • Estimated housing costs as percentage of median income of 22.2 percent, ranking it 86 out of 92 counties
  • Percent of population with an associate degree or higher of 15.1 percent, ranking it 91 out of 92 counties.
  • An unemployment rate, at the time of the report's data collection, of 8 percent, ranking it 87 out of 92 counties.
  • Percent of population on disability of 17.4 percent, ranking it 89 out of 92 counties.
  • A life expectancy of 79.7 years, ranking it 91 out of 92 counties.
  • Percent of population that is obese of 31 percent, ranking it 36 out of 92 counties.
Such issues, as the report noted, were not limited to simply Fayette County, as several rural counties — including Henry, Wayne and Union — also struggled in those categories.

Franklin County, meanwhile, found itself toward the upper end of those counties whose community is thriving, according to the report. Its median income of $49,516 was within the top 30 counties in the state, while those possessing an associate degree or higher — 26.1 percent — was right at the top 30 statewide. Those on disability in Franklin County was also low — 9.9 percent — along with the percentage of adult obesity within the county, which ranked sixth-best in the state at 27.5 percent.

Positive figures in those categories are what distinguished the thriving counties of the report — Boone, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Johnson, Porter, Posey, Warrick, Wells, Bartholomew, Dubois, Monroe and Tippecanoe — from the struggling onces, along with being large employment centers with bustling economic activity.

"High percentage of economic activity in a single industry sect or concentrated economic activity also appears as a common theme in thriving counties," the report stated.

The goal of the report and the IU Public Policy Institute's Thriving Community, Thriving State project is to spark discussion within local governments, private sector leaders and non-profit organizations about the issues impacting the community and state while developing courses of action.
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