A credit report company ranks Baraboo among the worst cities in Wisconsin to raise a family in. Local leaders give the report little credit.
This month, WalletHub released a list of the best places to raise a family in Wisconsin. Comparing 85 cities using statistics on crime, education and income, it ranked Baraboo 74th. The Circus City placed just above Kenosha and six slots below Portage.
A WalletHub spokeswoman said the ranking is based on government statistics and online review sites like Yelp. Analyst Jill Gonzalez said WalletHub wants to empower consumers to make smart financial decisions, including choosing the best city to live and work.
Baraboo leaders say WalletHub is merely trying to generate media coverage. “It’s a marketing ploy on their part,” Mayor Mike Palm said. “It flies in the face of everything you see here.”
WalletHub says it used statistics from the U.S. Census and FBI, as well as TripAdvisor and other websites, in analyzing communities’ affordability, safety, education level, median income and divorce rates. Baraboo leaders say those statistics, as presented, are misleading.
“The numbers may be pulled out of databases, and they may be accurate, but they’re taken out of context,” said Bobbie Boettcher, executive director of the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t think it has any validity.”
“WalletHub used raw data from reputable sources and the report’s methodology was developed in conjunction with academic experts in the field,” Gonzalez said. “What is there to be taken out of context?”
WalletHub’s assessment of Baraboo stands at odds with publications that have trumpeted the city’s virtues. Last month, U.S. News & World Report listed Baraboo among six up-and-coming American cities. In 2013, Smithsonian Magazine named Baraboo the No. 4 small town to visit in the U.S.
“I would take their word over some unknown credit scoring company,” Boettcher said.
Gonzalez attributed Baraboo’s poor showing to its low rankings in affordability (80th) and socioeconomics (81st). Baraboo posted the fourth-lowest median family income (adjusted for cost of living) at just over $53,000 per year, making housing costs restrictive.
Baraboo had the ninth-highest divorce rate of cities analyzed at almost 28 percent. It also had the eighth-highest percentage of families living below the poverty line at 14 percent, with 23 percent of the families in Baraboo receiving food stamps—the second-highest percentage of the 85 cities analyzed.
Baraboo City Administrator Ed Geick said he has seen such rankings before, and upon investigation found old statistics were used and manipulated. “I don’t know about this group, but I would guess this is more of a marketing gimmick to get their name in a story,” he said. “Based on my travels around Wisconsin, I still think we have one of the best cities to live in.”
The Madison suburbs of Verona and Waunakee were rated as the best cities to raise a family in. Milwaukee finished last at No. 85.
Baraboo ranked a few slots higher than South Milwaukee, Racine, Beloit and West Allis.
“If you think that Baraboo is a worse place to live than Beloit, maybe you should move to Beloit,” Palm said. “It’s ludicrous.”