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Access to jobs, housing, shopping drive county income trends

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If you live in the Center Grove area, your weekly paycheck on average is about $400 higher than neighbors in Franklin.

But you also likely spend 10 minutes more commuting to work every day and have bigger mortgage payments, too.

Families living in northern Johnson County earn about $20,000 per year more than other parts of the county because they’re more likely to commute to higher-paying jobs in Indianapolis, according to an economist.

The median household income is about $70,000 per year in ZIP codes including Greenwood, New Whiteland, Whiteland and the Center Grove area, compared to $50,000 in areas farther south, such as Franklin and Edinburgh, according to U.S. Census Data. Those incomes represent the midpoint between the highest and lowest incomes among households in those areas.

Residents living in the 46106 ZIP code, which includes most of Bargersville, have the highest median income at $76,399 per year, while Edinburgh and the rest of the 46124 ZIP code earn the lowest in the county at $47,258.

Living in Greenwood or White River Township doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a bigger paycheck than someone living in Franklin. But factors including proximity to high-paying jobs in Indianapolis, higher-end homes and more amenities, including shopping centers and restaurants, draw families who earn more to the north and west sides of the county, local officials and economists said.

More than half of county residents commute to another county for work, and most of those commuters are heading to Marion County, where jobs pay about $15,000 more per year on average than in Johnson County, according to Census statistics.

An executive who works downtown isn’t likely to live near his office, and families instead seek out nearby suburban areas, such as White River Township, to call home, economist Morton Marcus said. Commuting from the northern end of the county may take about 25 to 30 minutes, compared to areas farther south where the daily drive is less convenient, he said.

“You may have a family that is going to show up with more income living closer to Indianapolis so they can cut down their commuting distances,” he said.

Workers in areas such as Greenwood, White River Township and Bargersville have average commutes of about 26 to 32 minutes, which means many are likely heading north to Marion County for work, Marcus said. Average commuting times in ZIP codes including Franklin and Edinburgh average about 22 minutes, meaning those commuters likely work inside Johnson County, on the southside or in neighboring counties, such as Bartholomew and Shelby.

Proximity to Indianapolis is only part of the draw. Residents also move to the Center Grove area and Greenwood because of the school systems; to move into newer, high-quality housing; and to be closer to local amenities, such as the Greenwood Park Mall and other restaurants and shopping centers, Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said.

Greenwood has gradually made efforts to increase the quality and price of homes in subdivisions by requiring larger lots or higher-quality building materials, which attract higher-earning families who can afford to purchase those homes, Myers said.

“In the past we’ve allowed some communities to come in that are on the lower end, and we’re really working to change that,” Myers said.

Franklin doesn’t have a lot of higher-end housing, with most homes priced between $75,000 and $150,000, so higher household earnings are more likely in the Center Grove area, Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

Franklin has jobs for doctors, lawyers and executives and managers of large manufacturers, but many of the city’s neighborhoods include older homes or smaller houses for families, he said. One of Franklin’s goals for the future is to create more executive housing, with homes valued at $300,000 or higher, to try to keep more of those high-earning residents in central Johnson County, he said.

“You look at a lot of the neighborhoods in White River Township or Center Grove, it’s a lot of newer neighborhoods,” McGuinness said. “Where Franklin is, we don’t have a whole lot of that empty space available outside of industrial or tech parks. Most of our homes are older, have historic value and the assessed value isn’t as high as on those.”

The southern and more rural parts of the county also might have lower incomes because people working different types of jobs or not working at all, Marcus said. Farmers might report their income differently than a person working in a factory, such as by having additional tax write-offs and exceptions, which could lead to lower reported earnings, he said.

Rural areas or smaller communities also tend to attract more retirees who want to move out of crowded suburbs or away from busier urban areas, he said.

For example, about 23 percent of the people living in the Prince’s Lakes area receive retirement income, compared to 18 percent of people living in Greenwood, New Whiteland and Whiteland ZIP codes. Retirements are another factor that may be limiting incomes in Franklin, which includes two large retirement communities, McGuinness said.

“We typically and generally have had an older population,” he said. “And over the course of their working career they may have had a higher income and now that they’re retired they’re not receiving as much in Social Security and retirement.”

McGuinness expects household incomes could increase in future years because Franklin is still recovering from the national recession, which hurt businesses such as manufacturers that make up a large number of jobs in the city, he said.

The mayor monitors free and reduced-priced lunch rates at local schools as a benchmark for how much local families are earning, and the rate for Franklin Community Schools has dropped from about 50 percent to 44 percent the past two years, he said. That means more families are either getting back to work or landing better-paying jobs, he said.

Free and reduced-priced lunch rates are about 45 percent for Greenwood, Franklin and Clark-Pleasant Schools this year, while the Edinburgh Community School Corp. has the highest rate at 64 percent, according to the Indiana Department of Education. Center Grove schools, which serve the ZIP codes with the highest median incomes in the county, also has the lowest rate at 19 percent.

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