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Click bait kings

Ninth Best and Climbing!

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2017-08-03


One of the best run cities in America is how the Henry Administration framed findings of a recently released popular survey by an internet click-bate company; we are the ninth best run city in America.

Not bad. In fact, pretty damn good. Even though the web page, Wallethub.com, is not exactly the Brookings Institution, its findings are worth noting.

Fort Wayne ranks just ahead of Louisville and just behind a collection of smallish Western cities such as Billings, Missoula, Provo, Boise, and Las Cruces. In number one place is that shining mecca, Nampa, Idaho, whose mayor is interestingly another Henry, Bob. Last place is Washington D.C. at 150 and Indianapolis comes in at 118. In fact, all the major American cities fall near the bottom of the list.

Back to Fort Wayne, let’s dig a bit deeper. Ninth best run is pretty damn good. But the rest of the stats on their comparisons list are not so shiny. Wallethub ranks our fair city at 69th for “quality of city services, at 81st for “financial stability, 47th for education, 103 for health, 33rd for safety and 39th for our economy. Middling to mediocre to downright poor.

Each category has a set of criteria upon which the rank is determined. Let’s look at our top and bottom ranking vis a vis three sets of criteria.
Health ranks 103, in the lower third of the list. Here are the scoring criteria:
• Infant Mortality Rate:
• Average Life Expectancy
• Hospital Beds per Capita
• Quality of Public Hospital System

They could have chosen cancer rates, obesity, mental health or the number of murders per capita. Of the above we suffer a higher than average infant death rate, we die comparably young, we are about average in the number of beds, but have no public hospital system, unless you count the VA, and we smoke much too much, eat too much, pound down the colas and exercise too little. Expanding more deeply into health statistics we compare unfavorably to Third World Countries in some categories.

Where we rank much better, in safety, education, and in our economy, the criteria present more questions.
Safety criteria include:
• Violent Crime Rate
• Property Crime Rate
• Fatalities per Capita
So, “safety” as they describe it, does not take into account traffic safety where we suffer as many deaths as from violent crime. And, our violent crime seems focused in a few neighborhoods that suggest a deeper problem that reflects negatively on “best run.”

Concerning our local economy among their measurements are:
• Unemployment/Underemployment Rates
• Median Annual Household Income
• Median Annual Income Growth Rate
• Annual Job Growth Rate
• Share of Population Living Below Poverty Level
• Economic Mobility

Here, they give greatest weight within the list of criteria to job growth and the unemployment rates. We feel pretty good about this locally, with a building boom, with more than full employment and growing home values. We feel good, but at the same time this is a national trend, so we are merely keeping pace. Where we fall short is income growth that has steadily declined since the 80s from well above the national average to well below it.

Economic mobility, you might note, is a reflection of the “American Dream,” and measures whether children surpass the earning power of their parents. Against that yard stick America has fallen behind Europe and many of the top 30 economic countries. America ranks at 15th or so, Denmark first. Canada ranks well above the US in upward mobility. This deterioration is foremost among the frustrations cited by poor white males nationwide and in Fort Wayne where no job is safe, where wages have stagnated and robots are on the march.

One more ranking bears consideration, in a previous city by city ranking Wallethub put FW near the very bottom, 89 of 100, on “recreation and entertainment” with the comparative quality of our parks at 88 or 100 nationwide reminding us of how stingy council has been with the parks’ maintenance budget. Our weather, another measure of attractiveness, ranks 96th of 100. That is truly subjective, unless you love the swelter of Atlanta in the summer or the daunting Chicago winters are seen as advantageous.

Rankings of this sort merely present a superficial snapshot of how we compared to other American cities in a subjective collection of statistics, but they are useful as a report card to refocus attention.

Give kudos to Mayor Henry and team for placing so high in “best run cities” category, but we should contemplate how to improve healthcare, restore the vigor of our parks, reduce our dreadful crime problem, and further strengthen our local economy. Perhaps the health commissioner and the parks director should be at the table in each discussion of economic development, not just the CEOs and money-changers, so that recreation and healthiness are part and parcel of each discussion and development. Same with the schools leadership who are expected to produce the next generation of great leaders.

My dad told me proudly in the early 60s that Fort Wayne was a city on the move. He died in ’65 and missed the precipitous decline of the late 70s and early 80s, but he would be rather pleased at the progressive momentum now, thanks to Mayors Lebamoff, Moses, Helmke, Richard and Henry and their teams, some of whom well remember the Flood, the jobs migration and parking lots replacing beloved structures. Ninth best was built on their shoulders. Number one is the goal.

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