A tale of 2 Hoosier cities

By Morton Marcus

We were excited to learn last week that St. John in Lake County replaced Carmel in Hamilton County as the wealthiest place in Indiana.

Except it might not be true. “It depends,” as economists like to say.

Newspaper articles germinated from a news release from 24/7WallStreet, an organization that gets its kicks from playing in the data sand box. This time they used data from the American Community Survey by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. The survey can be confusing to experienced users.

On the website you’ll find St. John’s median household income for 2015 at $95,777 and Carmel at $106,433. That puts St. John as 17th among all Indiana places. Carmel is 11th, both behind North Crows Nest town which reigns supreme at $250,000+.

“North Crows Nest?” you ask. Yes.

It’s a small, 16-household, incorporated enclave in Marion County, located, as you might expect, north of Crows Nest with its 33 households and a median income of $191,458 for 2015, ranking second among Indiana places.

How was St. John discovered? The story from 24/7WallStreet covered only places of 1,000 to 25,000 persons.

However, it remains a mystery why Ogden Dunes, in nearby Porter County, with more than 1,000 persons and a median income in excess of $100,000, wasn’t chosen over St. John for the story.

The stories didn’t even mention English, the county seat of Crawford County, with a median household income of $17,438, the poorest town in the Hoosier state. Doesn’t poverty rate even a brief nod anymore?

Yes, English has fewer than 1,000 residents.

Well then, how about Converse (on the Grant-Miami county line)? It has more than 1,000 residents and a median income of $37,159. That figure, well above English’s level, is still below the lowest median income for any county in the state, which is held by Blackford County at $38,190.

Indiana’s median household income for 2015 was snuggled in 35th place among the 50 states at $49,255, ahead of Missouri, Idaho and Florida, while trailing Maine, Ohio and Michigan. Of our 92 counties, 75 were below the national level of $53,889.

The leading states were Maryland at $74,551 followed by Alaska and New Jersey. Lagging all states was Mississippi at $39,665, trailing Arkansas and West Virginia. The spread between Maryland and Mississippi was $34,886; the Magnolia State’s median income would have to grow by 88 percent to reach Maryland’s level.

Income distribution among and within our states and counties needs to be of concern. It is not cold numbers, but the lives lived by our fellow citizens.

Finally, where did the press get the idea that income is wealth? Income is what passes through your hands; wealth is what sticks to your fingers. Your income quickly becomes your mortgage payment. The equity in your house is your wealth.

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.