City 10th in lowest income for rich status

February 4th, 2019

By Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

A household earning roughly $87,000 a year is considered wealthy in Fort Wayne, according to a financial advice company.

New York-based SmartAsset released a study last week on household income levels required to be among the top 20 percent of earners in each of America's 100 largest cities. The study used U.S. Census Bureau data for 2017.

With a top-quintile income of at least $86,903, Fort Wayne ranked 10th among the cities requiring the least income to be wealthy, SmartAsset reported. Detroit had the lowest such threshold, $61,786.

Cities with top income brackets between those of Detroit and Fort Wayne included Cleveland, Toledo and Milwaukee. The only other Indiana city included in the study was Indianapolis, which had the 21st lowest income, $96,236, needed to be rich in the Hoosier capital.

SmartAsset adviser AJ Smith said paychecks are smaller but stretch further in Midwestern cities.

“When we look at things like affordability and home prices, the Midwest overwhelmingly does much better. There are some things that are on the more positive side – having a lower cost of living,” she said in a telephone interview.

In 2017, SmartAsset rated Fort Wayne as the most affordable big city in the country based on incomes and housing prices. Last September, it ranked Fort Wayne eighth on its list of most affordable big cities for an early retirement based on housing prices, taxes and health insurance costs. 

SmartAsset reported this week that San Francisco requires the most household income, $231,347, to reach the top 20 percent of that city's earners. Four of the five cities with the highest wealthy brackets were in California, with Arlington, Virginia, ranking third at $213,440.

SmartAsset noted that the average home price in three of the California cities – San Francisco, San Jose and Irvine – exceeds $800,000 and that Arlington, a suburb of Washington, D.C., has a “fairly high” cost of living.

But the company also said the separation between haves and have-nots was generally greater in the 10 cities requiring the least income to be rich than in the 10 wealthiest cities. Among the bottom 10, Fort Wayne's gap was deemed the smallest – the threshold for the highest quintile was 4.1 times more than the threshold for the lowest, $21,144. Quintile thresholds were five and six times apart in other cities.

“There appears to be a little bit more income equality in the Fort Wayne area,” Smith said.

Rachel Blakeman, director of the Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne, pointed out that the SmartAsset study applied only to Fort Wayne and not all of Allen County.

“Our highest income earners in Allen County don't necessarily live within the city limits. Household incomes are higher when you look at Allen County rather than the city of Fort Wayne,” she said.

The median household income for Fort Wayne in 2017 was $45,853, according to the Census Bureau. It was $51,091 for Allen County, including Fort Wayne. The median is the middle point in a set of numbers.

“Regardless, Fort Wayne city and Fort Wayne metro and the region need more high-income jobs,” Blakeman said.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and Greater Fort Wayne Inc. are pushing for increased wages and incomes in the area, which would act as “a talent attraction mechanism” if realized, Blakeman said.

“And those are often the skilled, talented, educated workers that we most want to attract,” she said.

Smith said the SmartAsset study might prompt people to consider whether they should obtain additional training, look for better-paying jobs, switch careers or move to areas with higher incomes. 

“That's something that this study gets people thinking about,” she said. “Where does your personal income fit, how does that compare to your financial goals, and where do you want to be?”