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October 8, 2013

MARCUS: Working sensibly toward better future

There are so many ways to look at Brown County. You can marvel at the golden colors as the leaves turn this time of the year. You can admire the high median household income and high rates of educational attainment enjoyed by the citizens of Brown County. Or, you can zero in on the low wages paid workers in the county.

For this place (Nashville and its surrounding communities) is not like other lightly populated counties in Indiana. With just 15,000 residents (81st in the state), Brown County has a population density of just 48 persons per square mile, compared with 182 statewide. This is because much of the county’s 312 square miles are state or federal lands not open to development.

The dominant private sector of Brown’s economy is accommodations and food services, primarily geared to tourist and convention business. But there are also artists and craftsmen who get by with little cash income in exchange for a chosen lifestyle. These factors lead to an average annual wage per job below $24,000, the lowest in the state.

Yet Brown County ranks 14th in Indiana for residents with education of a bachelor’s degree or more, and 21st in percentage of adults with at least a high school diploma. These achievements give the county a median household income that is 12th in Indiana and 15 percent above the state average. Poverty is less of a problem in Brown County (13 percent) than in the state (15.8 percent).

Commuting explains the issue. More than one-third of Brown residents who hold jobs commute to neighboring Bartholomew, Marion, Johnson and Monroe counties. Highly skilled commuting workers from Brown County bring back good incomes when they return home. Those who remain to work in the county have low incomes either because of limited opportunities or lifestyle choices. (One of those lifestyles is retirement which has drawn a goodly number of non-poor households to Brown.)

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