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A new Power Ratings champ?

Every year during the old Partner Up! for Public Health campaign, we built a major part of the annual publicity effort around what we called Power Ratings that paired county health rankings produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with county economic rankings generated each year by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

Throughout the 2010-through-2014 period for which we compiled rankings, Oconee County reigned supreme.  For each of those five years, it was No. 1 in DCA’s economic rankings,[1] which are generated by a formula that incorporates local unemployment and poverty rates along with local per capita income.   And, it ranked either 2nd or 3rd in RWJ’s annual health outcomes rankings, which are based on a formula that includes premature death rates, the percent of the population reporting being in poor or fair health, number of days worked missed for reasons of physical or mental health, and low birthweight.

But this year we may have a new champ in the Power Ratings, which we are hereby rebranding the Trouble in God’s Country Power Ratings.  RWJ is set to announce its 2015 county health rankings this week, but DCA’s economic rankings are already out.  They were published late last year to absolutely no fanfare, and Forsyth County slipped past Oconee to claim the top economic ranking.  Oconee came in 2nd.

What’s more, Forsyth County moved into the top spot for health outcomes in the 2013 and ‘14 RWJ health outcomes rankings.  If it can hold onto that top ranking in RWJ’s 2015 report, it will mark the first time that a Georgia county has been No. 1 in both health outcomes and economics, and will earn a perfect Power Ranking of 1.0.  (Our Power Rankings have been calculated by adding the economic and health outcomes rankings and then dividing the sum by 2; the lower the number, the better the score.)

A closing anecdotal observation that proves absolutely nothing but is still kind of interesting: However RWJ’s health outcomes rankings come out this week, we can already point out that, for both of these counties, changes in their health outcomes rankings from 2010 through 2014 preceded more or less parallel shifts in their economic rankings in 2015.

Oconee County held the top economic ranking from 2010 through 2014.  It ranked 2nd for health outcomes in 2010 and 2011, then slipped to 3rd for the next three years – and then its 2015 economics ranking slipped to 2nd place.  Forsyth County’s trend, meanwhile, was generally the opposite.  It came in 3rd for health outcomes in 2010 and 2011, moved up to 2nd in 2012 and then to 1st in 2013 and 2014.  Its economic ranking, meanwhile, floated along in 4th or 5th place for the first five years – and then jumped all the way to 1st in the most recent DCA economic rankings.

Does this mean that health is driving economics?  Did Forsyth County’s steadily improving health metrics help strengthen its economic performance?  And did Oconee County’s slight decline in health somehow contribute to its equally slight decline in economics?  Those conclusions are obviously far too simplistic, and we can no doubt find examples suggesting exactly the opposite.  But with six years of data now in hand, we may be able to begin seeing trends that weren’t apparent before now.  We should know more once we’ve had a chance to study the new RWJ County Health Rankings.  Look for an update soon.

[1] Actually, Oconee County came in last in DCA’s annual economic rankings.  DCA produces these rankings as part of its administration of the state’s Job Tax Credit Program, the purpose of which is to steer jobs to the poorest counties in the state.  So it ranks the state’s 159 from worst-to-best in terms of economics.  So that we can compare that list to RWJ’s best-to-worst rankings, we simply turn the DCA list upside down and lay the two down alongside one another.

Copyright © 2015 Trouble in God’s Country

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