Written by The Business Journal Staff
California’s fifth-largest city can’t get any love from WalletHub.
Once again last week, the financial website used Fresno as punching bag, ranking the city as the country’s second-worst place to find a job.
“If it’s a survey, and it comes from WalletHub, we pretty much know what to expect,” said Mark Standriff, Fresno’s communications director. “For whatever reason, those folks just seem to have an ax to grind with Fresno.”
But Jill Gonzalez, an analyst at WalletHub, counters: “Fresno is still struggling from an economic stand point. We found that the recession wounds have not fully healed and the city still needs to make an effort to catch up.”
Fresno’s job market “was hit pretty bad” by the Great Recession, Gonzalez pointed out. “Still, in 2016, it’s hard for residents to find good job opportunities with decent starting salaries.”
Gonzalez said Fresno’s median monthly income is $1,910 and the city’s current unemployment rate “is more than twice the national average. The city needs to find a way to create more jobs,” she added.
“Another troubling fact” about Fresno, Gonzalez said, is that “over 15 percent of the employed population is living below the poverty line,” which is currently about $39,000 for the median U.S. household.
“Although underemployment can be seen across the country,” Gonzalez added, “Fresno is certainly a prime example.”
Washington, D.C.-based Evolution Finance launched WalletHub in February 2012 as a “one-stop online destination for all the tools and information consumers and small business owners need to make better financial decisions and save money.”
The company, which also hawks a variety of insurance, banking and legal services on its website, produces a plethora of “best and worst” surveys, explaining that the polls are compiled using social media, “expert” insights and “a vast amount of constantly-updating information.”
Last year, WalletHub labeled Fresno one of the country’s “least caring” cities, third worst, in fact, just ahead of San Bernardino and Detroit.
WalletHub has also dubbed Fresno among the country’s “least educated” cities and “worst places to retire.”
Last summer, WalletHub compared 100 of the largest U.S. cities across 27 key metrics, including climate, quality of local parks and basic access to entertainment and recreational facilities, and determined Fresno was one of the country’s “least active cities.”
Fresno State Assistant Professor of Recreation Administration Dr. Jason Whiting found the results of that survey entertaining.
“According to WalletHub,” Whiting said, “Fresno has one of the lowest percentages of parkland available — and compared to other cities, our cost of bowling is pretty high too. Talk about a strike out!”
Fresno Chamber of Commerce CEO Al Smith said he had never heard of WalletHub.
“Everybody in the world seems to be conducting a survey about something these days,” Smith said. “Sooner or later, the business community becomes tone deaf to these surveys.”
“Just look at the companies coming into Fresno these days, companies like Dave & Busters. The amount of people who continually find this community acceptable and very livable is quite unique,” Smith added. “That doesn’t always translate into a survey.”
Each WalletHub survey is accompanied by a detailed explanation of the methods — and metrics — used to compile it.
The website doesn’t always throw Fresno under the bus. In a recent survey looking at how much cities spend on their police forces, Fresno finished just outside the top ten, ranking 12th out of the 104 major U.S. cities.
Standriff believes WalletHub’s survey methodology is often stacked against cities like Fresno. “They usually focus on lagging rather than leading indicators,” he said. “And some of their data points are actually from older surveys they’ve produced.”
“That’s the main reason our city keeps showing up at the bottom of their surveys,” Standriff said. “They give extra weight to factors like unemployment and poverty levels and in some cases, use older statistics from sources like the 2010 U.S. Census.”
Earlier this month, Fresno actually topped mortgage giant Freddie Mac’s list of the U.S.’s “healthiest housing markets,” beating out perennial hotspots Austin, Texas, and Honolulu, Hawaii.
Standriff noted gains in both jobs and wages over the past few years helped boost Fresno from 113th in 2014 to 54th in the Milken Institute’s 2015 rankings of best-performing U.S. cities. A research economist at the respected Santa Monica-based think tank concluded Fresno was “certainly heading in the right direction.”
And in a 2014 report, the Brookings Institute lauded Fresno, ranking the city 49th best in the world as far as economic growth.
Major credit rating agencies like Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s and Fitch “have all consistently upgraded the city over the last few years,” Standriff pointed out. “Sure, we still have issues with unemployment and poverty in Fresno but we’re working every day to support business and expand job opportunities here.”
“That doesn’t stop every time a new poll or survey is released, regardless if the news is good or bad,” he added. “We put much more stock in organizations whose job it is to monitor and analyze the business markets throughout the country than we do in a poll cobbled together by what is basically a website trying to generate clicks.”
George Lurie | Reporter can be reached at:
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