Census paints good picture of Washington County

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By Special to The Sun

Newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that household incomes and home prices in Washington County have dramatically risen in the last decade since the survey was conducted.
Despite a sluggish national economy. median household incomes for Washington County have skyrocketed from $33,136 in 2000 to about $42,995 in 2010, the report shows. That’s just above the state annual income average of $41,197.
“It’s excellent news,” said Hal Goode, executive director for the Springfield-Washington County Economic Development Authority, who believes the surge in salaries can be largely attributed to a diversified economy. “There are some jobs out there, with the correct type of post-secondary education, that are simply paying more.”
St. Catharine’s College has added a number of higher-paying education jobs in the last 10 years, he said, which helps boost overall salaries.
Longtime farmers also have abandoned agriculture for better paying jobs in manufacturing and technical fields. Those who once worked on tractors and bush hogs have since found jobs as welders, machinists or maintenance supervisors, Goode said.
“They had the skills and backgrounds to transition,” he said. “They were a perfect fit and very trainable.”
Other Washington wage earners are commuting to higher-paying jobs at nearby medical and corporate facilities in Nelson and Marion counties — or as far as Lexington and Louisville.
“You should really look at workforces regionally in a 60-mile radius,” Goode said. “The county lines don’t divide us, they join us.”
 The mean travel time for Washington County commuters is about 27.7 minute, the Census shows.

Since 2000, the median home price in Washington County has appreciated more than $27,000. The average home here is now worth about $99,700, the Census shows. Median mortgage payments for homeowners are $931, the report shows, while those who rent will pay about $292 a month.
“In the last decade, you could go out and build the house of your dreams,” said Steve Hale, who’s sold real estate here for more than 33 years. “The status symbol was— and is—to live in more expensive housing.”
Census data shows there are 4,721 owner-occupied housing units here compared to 889 rental units. About 604 of those units are empty.
During the last decade, many developers and homebuilders constructed homes at 25 percent above their budget, Hale said. That drove up average home prices here. Outsiders have also discovered the low-cost of living in Washington County, said Hale, who predicts this trend to dramatically shape real estate prices during the next decade.

Initial figures from the federal record-keeping agency, released late last month, pinpoint a number of trends related to the means and averages of Washington County’s estimated 11,365  residents. Data shows Washington County largely mirrors the rest of the state in terms of race, education and economic indicators.
About 90.7 percent of the county’s population is white, the report shows.  Black, and Hispanic/latino populations have risen slightly in the last decade since the Census was conducted—but minorities still make up less than 10 percent of the population. That’s nearly identical to racial averages for Kentucky as a whole.
High school graduation rates have jumped locally more than 8 points since 2000, the Census shows. Nearly 77 percent of the Washington County workforce has obtained a high school diploma; less than 12 percent have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher. While a substantial improvement, those education rates are below state and national levels.
Washington County Schools Superintendent Robin Cochran attributed the higher graduation rates to a number of education initiatives.
“One of our main focuses is creating a personal connection with every student,” she said. “The high school calls it ‘naming them and claiming them.”
That extra attention to student engagement is helping educators remove personal barriers, which have prevented some of the most at-risk students from obtaining a diploma in the past.
Educators are further exposing students earlier to a number of post-secondary and technical opportunities, she said.
“We’re focusing on student readiness and college preparedness,” she said, noting newly established partnerships with the county’s technical school and St. Catharine College.  
The district has also retained and graduated a number of struggling students with its alternative classroom. The program offers credit recovery to those at-risk of falling behind.
Higher graduation rates across Kentucky can also be partly attributed to the state’s “No Pass, No Drive” legislation, which bars failing students from securing or retaining a drivers license.
Cochran said she supports state legislation that would raise the high school drop out to 18.  
Graduation rates are intrinsically tied to a person’s future earning potential and the county’s economy, Cochran said.