Community Vitality Index shows disparities among Indiana counties in personal, economic well-being

December 04, 2015

According to our new study, 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 mid-sized communities and in 11 regions around the state.

Data were 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 mid-sized communities fare relative to urban and rural counties. Perhaps, what is more interesting, however, is seeing the impact of regional hubs within regions,” said Marron. “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:

  • Mid-sized counties collectively perform exceedingly well on these measures relative to rural and urban communities.
  • Educational attainment in rural areas lags behind urban and mid-sized communities, considerably contributing to greater economic challenges.
  • Residents of urban areas spend substantially more of their incomes on housing than rural or mid-sized 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 the state fare less well than other regions.