"Recent Economic History of Montgomery County" was the topic presented by Frank Howland, Professor of Economics at Wabash College, at the July 11 Kiwanis Club noontime meeting. Dr. Howland was prompted to give the talk because both the League of Women Voters and Montgomery County Economic Development are interested in developing a series of economic and social indicators for Montgomery County. In addition, Dr. Howland and his colleague, Professor Kay Widdows, are asking students in their Economics 101 classes this fall to study and report on aspects of Montgomery County's economy. In his Kiwanis talk, Dr. Howland gave a preliminary overview of economic and social trends in the last 20 years in our community.

During the 1990s, Montgomery County's total population increased steadily from 34,500 to 37,500; in the 2000s (2000-2010) population rose very slowly, to 38,000 by 2010. The Hispanic population almost tripled in the 2000s, rising from 600 to almost 1,800. The county is older on average than it was 20 years ago-the median age in 2012 was 40 years. This is due in part to the aging of the Baby Boom generation, but also to out-migration from the county by people in their twenties. Education levels in the county rose slowly: 13% of adults were college graduates in 1990, and 17.5% in 2010.

The county's labor force, those who are employed plus those who are seeking work, rose to above 20,000 during the 1990s, but now stands at about 18,000. Total employment in the county was about 11% lower in 2011 than it was in 2001, unlike the rest of Indiana where the number of people employed in 2011 was about the same as in 2001. Most of the county's job loss occurred in manufacturing, from 6,400 jobs in 2000 to 5,100 in 2011.

One bright spot in the county's economy is agriculture. Total output of corn rose from 16 million bushels in 2000 to 21 million in 2011 before falling to 13 million in last year's drought. Soybean output hovered around 6 million bushels over the last decade before falling to about 4.2 million bushels in 2012. County farm land values increased tremendously in the 2000s, rising in total more about $1.4 billion over the decade.

The weak economy has taken a toll on Montgomery County residents. Median household income measures the income of people right in the middle: half of all households make less than the median, half make more. Correcting for inflation by putting all figures in 2013 dollars, median household income in the county rose from $54,000 in 1990 to $57,000 in 2000 and then down to $46,000 in 2010. The percentage of county residents receiving food stamps more than doubled in the 2000s, rising from 4% to 11%.

In terms of health, the news is mixed. Life expectancy for females rose from 79 years in 1990 to 80 in 2010; for males from 73 to 75. However, the percentage of pregnant women who smoked stayed constant at about 30% from 1990 to 2010, while it fell from 26% to 16% in the state as a whole.

Dr. Howland commented that this preliminary analysis pointed to three major challenges for the county going forward: improving education, working on personal health habits, and encouraging young people to remain in the county. Readers who wish to learn more are welcome to contact Dr. Howland at howlandf@wabash.edu or 765-361-6317.