(By Brandon Hansen/Chewelah Independent)
Town loses dubious clickbait honor to Cheney in 2017…
As the Jefferson’s would say, Chewelah is moving on up.
The imperfect and incorrect science of click-bait websites labeling towns the most this and that have labeled Chewelah the poorest town in Washington for the years 2015 and 2016.
It’s a rather dubious notion that left people in the town scratching their head. NE Washington has never been an economic powerhouse, but things weren’t that bad, they thought.
Now the questionable metrics have moved onto a different city. The new poorest city in Washington is Cheney, home of Eastern Washington University. The website homesnacks.net states that the town had a median income $28,194 and an unemployment rate of 12.4 percent.
What they didn’t mention was those numbers were that way because of a college student body of over 10,000 that typically has part-time jobs or no job at all, but that wasn’t worth mentioning now was it?
Chewelah can celebrate no longer being the poorest town in Washington. In fact, they didn’t even crack the top ten. According to homesnacks.net, rounding out the poorest towns in Washington is Pullman (another college town), Wapato, Kelso, Grandview, Toppenish, Longview, Hoquiam, Shelton and Port Angeles.
When Chewelah was named the poorest city in Washington, Mayor Dorothy Knauss had a problem in the data for the online “honor” was collected. She stated the American Community Survey uses a very small sampling that is taken per year from small cities.
Knauss said that these samplings can be as little as 50 people. The original online article stated that the median income of $30,720 in Chewelah made it Washington’s “poorest city.”
In an article penned in 2015, Knauss explained that Chewelah’s family households had a median income of $40,938 while the individual household median income was $19,861.
“Which may be due to the large number of retirees and senior citizens,” Knauss said. “And I’m so glad we have them here.”
If not working, senior citizens’ social security and other retirement benefits would be considered their only income, even though they may have had their house, car and other items paid off as well as a retirement fund or savings. As stated above concerning the distortion of numbers because of college students, the same was true because Chewelah is more of a retirement community.
Median income is also misleading as it’s not an average. What it means is half of the population earned less than $30,000 and half of the population earned more than $30,000.
When asked three years later about it, Knauss said at the time Chewelah was named the poorest town in the state, it seemed to make people who live in town angry and insulted.
“That’s not a reflection of who we are,” Knauss said. “If you come here you see we have a golf course, a ski resort, great hunting and dining. We have a vibrant chamber of commerce and a tremendous arts scene.”
Applying for grants was easier after being named the poorest town in Washington as that tended to stand out in the application process.
Knauss added that in recent years there has been a sense of enthusiasm around the city as new businesses have come in. Sales in the city have picked up as well.
Chewelah Chamber of Commerce Vice President and Chewelah Councilmember Evan Schalock moved his family back to Chewelah after spending time in several large cities. He’s one of the young professionals who are beginning to trickle back into the city.
“The biggest draw for my family was the search for a ‘hometown’ feel,” Schalock said. “My wife and I have lived in a number of great places that have a tremendous amount of ‘amenities’ to offer. We’ve even raised our sons in a couple of different cities that mostly young working families are drawn to given job opportunities, vibrant communities, awarded schools, etc. but all in all the biggest – and most important – thing that we were missing was the feeling of being home.”
Before moving to Chewelah, Schalock worked in the banking industry for almost a decade with different organizations and in different communities. Since returning home, he’s become heavily involved in the Chewelah Chamber of Commerce which has over 200 members under its umbrella.
“I can honestly say that our chamber of commerce as well as our volunteer organizations are some of the strongest I’ve ever seen,” Schalock said. “People from all different age groups give their days and weekends consistently each month and year to make Chewelah a great place to live.”
As an example, in Chewelah’s second quarter 2017 taxable retail sales came in at $9.9 million – a 4.4 percent increase over the same period one year ago – according to data released last month by the state’s Department of Revenue. This came after an increase in retail sales in 2016 as well.
The livability of the city is also good, as the cost of living in town is seven percent lower than the national average and 22 percent lower than the state average.
That doesn’t mean, however, that everything is economically rosy in town. The poverty rate in 2016 was 27.3 percent while the state average is about 15 percent. Sixty percent of children in the school district receive free or reduced lunches.
Senior citizens could also affect this as their social security and other benefits would be their only form of income if they’re not working. Chewelah’s disability rate is also high, and the median age in town was 47-years-old in 2015.
The median property value in Chewelah was $129,300 in 2015, and the homeownership rate was 51.9 percent.
These data points, however, are better consumed when in context, and as evident with the “poorest town in washington” moniker, statistics don’t always tell the full story.
For Schalock, it has been the community participation and passion, coupled with the recreational opportunities in the area that keep it a destination for people to live.
“It also attracts individuals from all ages and businesses from different sectors to choose our town as a place to live and do business moving forward,” Schalock said.