TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) – The 2020 Census numbers have been out for a few months, showing the poverty level in Terre Haute is much higher than the state of Indiana as a whole.
However, one economic expert and the Mayor said that the poverty level in Terre Haute, is nothing new to them.
“Terre Haute is and has been a relatively poor community for a very long time,” Dr. Robert Guell, an economics professor at Indiana State University, said.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett also acknowledged this being an issue but said beginning to combat it can be more complicated than it seems.
“Sometimes people would say ‘well if you just do this, you can fix that problem.’ Well it’s more complicated than that and it has been for a very long time,” Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett said.
With that being said, both agreed that the 2020 Census numbers do not come as any shock.
“The job prospects have been weaker than Indiana, the incomes have been weaker than the statewide, poverty numbers have been worse than statewide and that’s been the case since I got here in the early 1990s,” Dr. Guell said.
Based on the 2020 census numbers, the median household income between 2016-2020 in the state of Indiana was $58,235.
In the same data set and time period, the median household income in Terre Haute was $37,299.
That means that on average, Terre Haute’s median income is 36% less than the entire state of Indiana.
“There is a great deal of moving out rather than moving in,” Dr. Guell said.
Meanwhile, according to the Census data, the poverty level in the state of Indiana is 11.6%. In Terre Haute, it is over double that at 25.3%.
As Dr. Guell said, it has always been this way, which he partially attributes to the city losing a mass about of jobs by losing Pfizer, Columbian Home Goods, and the jobs soon to be lost from Sony DADC.
“The largest employer at three different points in my lifetime is no longer here. So we are left with Indiana State University and the combined operation of Union Hospital and its UAP Physicians,” Dr. Guell said.
Because this has been a consistent issue within the city, the Mayor said they are being active about trying to fix it, one step at a time.
“The first steps for us will be to get more people here, improve the quality of life so that people want to come here and they want to stay here. We have to work on the training component to get people trained for the jobs of the future and people are really going to have to step up and help with that,” Mayor Bennett said.
Mayor Bennett said there have been some salary increases in the city, but with rising inflation, most households aren’t bringing in any extra money into their pockets.
“We need better-paying jobs so that people can move up, so if you’re in a lower-end job and you’re working or you have a full-time job and you’re happy, but you need to make more money, you need to be able to move up into those next-level jobs,” Mayor Bennett said.
Mayor Bennett said as a part of improving the quality of life in Terre Haute, the city plans to upgrade two to three parks per year for the next five years.
He also said projects such as the Convention Center and the Queen of Terre Haute Casino will hopefully add destinations to the city that will attract more people.
“Places to go, things to see, things to enjoy, so whether you’re a visitor and you come here or maybe you come here for business for a short period of time, you’re like ‘you know Terre Haute has got it going on, this is a place I want to be apart of,’” Mayor Bennett said.
Mayor Bennett said although this is not a change that will happen overnight, he hopes that by making small changes now, it will make a big difference 10 years from now.
The Mayor adds READI grant funding will also help with certain projects throughout the city to hopefully attract more people to Terre Haute.
He said the state is currently in the process of approving the plan for the READI grants funds.
Once that happens, Mayor Bennett said they will announce which projects were approved. He said he hopes that will happen sometime in April.