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Kemp’s “rural strike team” should be a step in the right direction. We’ll see.

First, props where they’re deserved.  Georgia Governor Brian Kemp actually took a step in the right direction Monday when he told the AJC he’s creating a “rural strike team” to try to stimulate economic development in the state’s dying hinterlands.  He reportedly plans to unveil the details in Swainsboro on Thursday.

Only time will tell whether this is anything more than eyewash and window dressing, but there were a couple of promising hints in the AJC’s story.  One was that he’s bringing together “a half-dozen state departments and higher education agencies” to drive the effort.  That implies a more strategic approach and focus than I’ve seen so far, and one that’s long overdue.  Still, the strike force will have its work cut out for it.

The state of Georgia is quite literally in the process of tearing itself apart along rural and urban lines, and especially between Metro Atlanta and just about everything else from Macon south.  These are not slow-moving trends.  No matter how you come at it – economically, educationally, health-wise, politically – you can pretty much watch the division in real-time.

Take education as an example.  In 1970, according to Census Bureau data, there were fewer than a quarter of a million college graduates in the entire state of Georgia, and slightly more than half of them lived outside Trouble in God’s Country’s 12-county Metro Atlanta region.  Today, the state is home to nearly two million college graduates and 63 percent of them live in Metro Atlanta.

That disparity is only going to grow.  Up until 2011, the 147 counties outside Metro Atlanta sent more freshmen to University System of Georgia (USG) institutions than the 12 Metro Atlanta counties, which is probably what you’d expect.  But in 2011 Metro Atlanta overtook the rest of the state and ever since then it’s been sending significantly more freshmen to USG colleges and universities than the rest of the state combined (see graph at right).

At the state’s two flagship universities, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, the gulf is bigger yet.  At Georgia Tech, 75.5 percent of the Fall 2018 in-state freshmen came from Metro Atlanta; at UGA, just over 63 percent of the in-state freshmen came from Metro Atlanta.  By my count, 71 counties, all rural, didn’t send a single high school graduate to Tech in the fall of 2018; at UGA, the same was true of 22 counties.

These differences matter.  Not only do they fuel Metro Atlanta’s outsized economic growth, they drive widening disparities in taxes paid and social services consumed.  With just under half the state’s population, Metro Atlanta in 2016 coughed up nearly two-thirds of the state’s federal taxes while consuming, as examples, about 37 percent of the state’s Medicaid services and about 41 percent of its food stamp benefits.

You can do the math on the other side of that equation.  Oh, okay, I’ll help: the 99 counties that constitute Trouble in God’s Country’s Middle and South Georgia regions don’t even come close to covering their own Medicaid and food stamp costs, let alone anything else.  After a while these kinds of numbers get to be politically untenable.

Some years back, I presented a very early version of my Trouble in God’s Country research to a group made up primarily of legislators.  One of those was House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Mickey Channell, who has since passed away.  “What do you do about it?” he asked.  I didn’t know then and still don’t, at least not entirely.  But I’ve since given it a lot of thought and would offer the following as a running start at an answer:

  • First, the multi-agency approach suggested by Kemp is the right idea — and critical. The state of Georgia arguably has one of the strongest and most sophisticated economic development infrastructures in the nation, but my sense is that its work has been largely siloed and not well integrated with other departments and agencies of state government.  The state’s urban-rural divide and the deterioration in much of rural Georgia constitutes a truly strategic problem.  It’s not an exaggeration to call it an all-hands-on-deck crisis.  In addition to the departments of Economic Development and Community Affairs, the team will have to include high-level engagement from throughout the state’s education bureaucracies and, I’d argue, public health and human services.
  • Start with a realistic evaluation of the state’s various rural areas and recognize that some are more viable than others. Some politicians like to say they want to run government like a business.  In business, if you’re losing money year after year, sooner or later you call it quits.  Under that theory, I can take the governor to 50 or so counties where he ought to turn out the lights and call it a day.  We can’t do that, of course, but it ought to be possible to invest discretionary tax dollars and other public resources in areas that at least have a fighting chance of generating a return, in terms of new growth and economic prosperity.  In other words, resist the normal political temptation to attack the worst problems first; instead, identify the regions that still have a pulse and see if they can be saved.
  • Shore up the regional hub cities first. It’s not just Georgia’s purely rural areas that are in serious decline; a lot of the major regional cities – Macon, Columbus, Augusta, etc. – are suffering various types of distress, and they are vital to rural areas around them.  As a practical matter, it may be too late to do much good for Albany and the rural counties between it and the Alabama line; that entire region of the state is bleeding population and shrinking economically to a degree that may put it beyond near-term salvation.  Figuring out how to strengthen other major hubs in ways that will enable them to better support their rural neighbors should be pretty close to the top of the to-do list for Kemp’s strike force.
  • Challenge the rural areas to compete for the state’s attention and dollars. Hopefully, one of the initiatives that will come out of Kemp’s effort will be a process by which multi-county regions or areas of the state can apply to the state for funding and technical support.  It shouldn’t be entirely on Kemp’s strike force to show up in Enigma, Ga., and say, “We’re from state government and we’re here to help you.”  Rural areas should be required to come forward with a rational vision, demonstrate that they have the leadership capacity to drive a major effort, and put serious skin in the game.  There should be milestones in that process and a credible system for evaluating progress.
  • Bite the political bullet and implement Medicaid Expansion. I should have listed this first but figured Republicans would stop reading right then and there.  Refusing to take advantage of Medicaid Expansion was the major failure of Nathan Deal’s administration and Kemp shows little inclination to do any better.  His attempt at a “waiver” approach (an all but transparent effort to deny Barack Obama any credit for the program) apparently can’t even pass muster in Donald Trump’s Washington.  Meanwhile, rural hospitals continue to close and people continue to die, prematurely and unnecessarily.  Even if Deal, Kemp & Co. are blind to the health benefits of Medicaid Expansion, you’d think they’d see the economic benefits of pumping billions of dollars into rural Georgia.  Maybe all things Obamacare still constitute a third rail of politics for Georgia Republicans, but my hunch is that the radioactivity levels tied to Medicaid Expansion have diminished to a point that it could be a political winner for Kemp – a Nixon-to-China sort of moment.

Again, I don’t know whether Kemp’s ”rural strike force” will prove to be anything more than eyewash and window dressing, but it’s encouraging that he’s taking a stab at the problem.  Hope springs eternal.

(c) Trouble in God’s Country 2019

 

‘Hey, Baby, you wanna help save America from socialism?’

A young up-and-comer in the Georgia Republican Party made headlines recently when he proclaimed that Republicans have a “fertility advantage” and suggested that a core GOP strategy going forward would be, basically, to out-breed the Democrats.

Brant Frost V, who is the second vice chair of the state GOP, told a recent meeting of Oconee County Republicans:

“Christian and conservative women have a 35 percent fertility advantage over Democrat women.  And the more conservative a woman is, the more likely she is to be married and have lots of kids – three, four, five, six kids.  And the more liberal and leftist a woman is, the less likely she is to even be married and have any children at all …”

I’m not making this up.  You can watch the video here.  Frost begins his remarks about an hour and seven minutes into the meeting.

As political Hail Marys go, you’ve got to give Frost credit for audacity.  I’m not sure it’ll work politically, but it’s bound to have a major impact on the Christian conservative singles-bar scene.  (“Hey, Baby, you wanna help save America from socialism?”)

But here’s the thing: Frost has absolutely zeroed in on the Republicans’ political problem.

According to data recently posted by the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), 79 of Georgia’s 159 counties had more deaths than births in 2018.

That’s actually news: it’s a record high, and it extends an alarming trend that started about a decade ago.  DPH’s public databases of births and deaths go back to 1994, and for about the first 15 years the number of counties reporting more deaths than births floated between about 10 and 20.  But that changed starting in 2010, as this graph shows.

More Deaths than Births Column Graph

These numbers are politically relevant to Frost’s grand strategy for a couple of reasons.  First, 78 of the 79 counties are rural; the only one that’s not is Fayette County, long recognized as a popular redoubt for retirees well past child-bearing age.  It’s also dependably Republican.

Second, Georgia’s rural regions have voted overwhelmingly Republican in the recent past.  Georgia’s current Republican governor, Brian Kemp, owes his narrow election over Democrat Stacey Abrams last year to extraordinarily high turnout and huge margins in rural Georgia.

And the importance of Frost’s vision – for conservative women to have “three, four, five, six” babies each – becomes even clearer when you drill down into the data and break it down by race.  Whites voted three-to-one for Kemp while blacks went more than nine-to-one for Abrams, according to an election-season poll of Georgia voters.

The number of counties reporting more white deaths than births was 104.  Eighty-four of those counties voted for Kemp.

These maps should leave little doubt about the vital importance of Frost’s strategy.  The first one spotlights the counties that had more white deaths than births in red; the second one shows the counties that went Republican in the 2018 gubernatorial in red and the ones that voted Democratic in blue.  It’s obviously not a perfect match, but it’s enough of an overlap that it ought to give your average GOP strategist a little heartburn.

 

Further, 57 of Kemp’s counties lost population between 2012 and 2017, according to Census Bureau estimates, and most of the Kemp counties that grew did so at rates that lagged the state average and, critically, traditionally Democratic urban areas.

That’s not the end of Frost’s political math problems.  At this point, there’s a fair body of polling data to suggest that Millennials lean decidedly toward the Democratic Party.  Last year Pew Research put the percentage of Millennials who consider themselves “consistently” or “mostly” conservative at 12 percent versus 57 percent who put themselves in a liberal category; the remainder put themselves in a “mixed” category.

The picture may be a little better for conservatives among Millennials who are actually registered to vote: Pew put that split at 59-32 in favor of Team Blue.  But it also found a gender divide that may impact the Frost strategy.  Some 41 percent of Millennial males tilted Republican, while only 23 percent of Millennial females did so.

For the sake of what I know is a dubious illustration, let’s say that all the Millennial women in counties that went for Kemp are the type of good Christian conservative women Frost has in mind and that the Millennial women in the Abrams counties are all godless Commies.

As the actual math on this works out, the women in the Kemp counties already have a consistently higher birth rate than the ones in the Abrams county; in 2018, the Millennial birth rate in the Kemp counties was 79.8 births per 1,000 women versus 72.7 in the Abrams counties.

The problem is, the Kemp women are badly outnumbered.

In 2018, 647,492 Millennial women in the Kemp counties gave birth to 51,687 babies (who, in this scenario, will all grow up to be good Republican voters).  The 886,215 Millennial women in the Abrams counties delivered 64,453 baby Democrats.

To close that gap of nearly 13,000, Millennial women in the Kemp counties will have to up their game; just matching the Democratic output would require them to raise their annual birth rate to just under 100 births per 1,000 women.  This arithmetic is admittedly (shall we say) speculative, but it seems clear that the good Christian women in Frost’s political fantasies will have their work cut out for them.

Now, it turns out there may be a silver lining for Republicans in all this data.  The same Pew research that found that conservatives had a surplus of men also found that liberals had more women and might not have enough men to go around.  This creates an opportunity for those extra conservative males to try their luck with liberal women (friendly pro tip: leave the MAGA cap in the pick-up).

Of course, such a development might create an entirely new classification problem for the Department of Public Health.  DPH keeps track of all the state’s births and deaths and classifies them in different ways – including ethnicity and race (white, black, multiracial).  If a Republican cross-pollination initiative works, DPH might have to add a political classification – Republican, Democrat, or Multi-partisan.

A first look at county-level GDP (with new maps and graphics)

First, a brief announcement: Trouble in God’s Country has a new toy.  I’ve known for a while that I needed some way beyond mere words to communicate all the data I’ve piled up, and recently I began looking around out here on the internet at various mapping programs.  Most of them gave me a headache.

But eventually I found my way to a web-based program called Tableau Public, and then got kickstarted in the use of the program with the help of a couple of smart young Tableau pros.  Apparently old dogs can learn new tricks.

I am, however, very much a Tableau newbie and am still figuring out how to do various things with the software.  In the post that follows, for instance, I would have liked to have been able to embed one of my new live interactive maps or charts, but I haven’t quite been able to break the code on that yet.  Instead, I’ve had to settle for using this static map and including a link, in the body of the post below, that will take you to a little interactive material at Tableau Public’s website.

___________

With that as preface, herewith some further notes on the widening economic divide between Metro Atlanta and the rest of Georgia:

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), a unit of the Commerce Department, last December published (to virtually no fanfare, as nearly as I can determine) the very first county-level gross domestic product (GDP) figures ever produced.  BEA billed the new data as a prototype, but still, you’d have thought it would have been a bigger deal.

A dive into the Georgia data suggests a couple of things.  First, it basically confirms that nearly two-thirds of the state’s economic muscle is concentrated in TIGC’s 12-county Metro Atlanta region.  The most recent Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data available, for the 2016 tax year, puts Metro Atlanta’s share of the state’s federal taxes at 65.8 percent.  The new BEA data puts Metro Atlanta’s share of 2015 GDP at 63.8 percent – but rising fast.

The real news here is, indeed, the growth rate.  BEA’s new prototype includes data for the years 2012 through 2015.  Over that period, Georgia’s overall GDP expanded from $444.1 billion to $513.1 billion – an increase of just under $69 billion, or 15.53 percent.

But $50 billion of that growth – 72.5 percent – took place in Metro Atlanta.  As a result, Metro Atlanta’s share of GDP expanded 1.4 percentage points in just four years.  In my experience, these kinds of numbers evolve at a more glacial pace – usually hundredths of a point per year rather than tenths.  All four other regions lost a little share of GDP, as this table shows.

Georgia GDP Table

A few other nuggets:

  • Twenty-one counties saw their GDP shrink between 2012 and 2015.
    Georgia County GDP Change Map

    GDP grew in the counties in blue and contracted in the ones in orange; the darker the color, the more extreme the change.

    Tiny Baker County in southwest Georgia led this race to the bottom; its GDP cratered 29.7 percent, dropping from $97.2 million in 2012 to $68.4 million in 2015.  Not far behind was neighboring Calhoun County, where the GDP fell 17.8 percent during the same period – from $113.2 million to $93.1 million.  (You can find an interactive map showing the percentage change in GDP for each county between 2012 and 2015 here: https://tabsoft.co/303CaY0).

  • At the other end of the spectrum, it’s worth noting that four small South Georgia counties led the state in percentage growth over that same period – Telfair County (71.4%), Lanier County (47.9%), Stewart County (47.9%), and Wheeler County (42.4%). While that growth is obviously impressive and encouraging for those counties, their growth combined contributed less $300 million in new GDP to the state’s economy.  By comparison, exurban Dawson County, north of Metro Atlanta, grew by more than double that amount.
  • In December 2016, I published a TIGC post comparing all 56 counties of interior South Georgia to Gwinnett County alone and making the point that Gwinnett County outperformed South Georgia in any metric you could find – economic, educational, public health, etc. The same is true with GDP.  Gwinnett County’s 2015 GDP was $43.5 billion to South Georgia’s $34.3 billion.  In fact, the same can be said of Cobb County, DeKalb County and, of course, Fulton County.  Fulton’s 2015 GDP of $157.4 billion is, in fact, larger than the combined GDP’s of my Middle, South and Coastal Georgia regions – 106 counties altogether.
  • The BEA report breaks the GDP data into three components – “private goods-producing industries,” “private services-providing industries,” and “government and government enterprises.” One mild surprise (at least to me) was how little the government sector contributed to Metro Atlanta’s GDP and how large a part it was of the other regions’ economies.  Despite the fact that the 12-county Metro Atlanta region is home to probably a hundred local governments, Georgia state government, and the regional offices of numerous federal agencies, the government sector made up only eight percent of Metro Atlanta’s $327.3 billion GDP in 2015.  In contrast, it makes up 24.3 percent of the much smaller GDP in both Middle Georgia and Coastal Georgia, no doubt because of the military bases strung across the belly of the state and along the coast, plus the ports at Savannah and Brunswick.  South Georgia’s government share of GDP in 2015 was 20.5 percent; North Georgia’s, 13.2 percent.

This last bullet should tell you why local, state and national politicians used to go a little crazy every time there was new round of military base closings under the old Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, and why Congress basically killed it several years ago (try to imagine Middle Georgia without Robins Air Force Base).  It also underscores an observation that came into focus early in my TIGC research: communal investments are critical to building a local economy.  I have yet to find a prosperous Georgia community that doesn’t have some sort of important public institution.

Is there a relationship between community prosperity and foreign-born populations?

I’m a messy and disorganized researcher.  Within an hour or so after diving into a new piece of research my desk and the floor around me are littered with scraps of paper and notes.  I’m also easily distracted.  I’m bad about being drawn to bits and pieces of information that aren’t central to what I’m trying to focus on.

It happened a week or so ago when I was mucking around in a mega-spreadsheet of data shared with me some months back by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG)[i], a Washington think-tank that has studied and ranked all the counties and cities (with populations of 50,000 or more) in the country on various metrics measuring prosperity and, more specifically, “distress” on a community.

For some reason, my eye kept drifting out to column AF, the 29th and very last column on the far right-hand edge of the spreadsheet.  It showed the percentage of foreign-born population for each community.

The reason it kept catching my eye was that it seemed, in my casual observation as I was working on my last post, that communities with higher percentages of foreign-born residents were doing better than those with lower percentages.  I noticed, for example, that the foreign-born population in Albany, which has the worst Distressed Community Index (DCI) score of any city in Georgia (and one of the worst in the country), was less than three percent of the total population.  In contrast, Alpharetta’s population is 23.3 percent foreign-born and it posted the best DCI score in the state.

So, I decided to take a deeper dive.  I’m not trained as a statistician, so I’m not prepared to say there’s a correlation, let alone a causal relationship.  But there are absolutely some interesting patterns.  A more comprehensive look at all the Georgia cities included in EIG’s dataset provides one (those with populations of 50,000 and up), as this graph shows.Foreign-Born Pops and EIG Scores

The five Georgia cities with the best DCI scores all had significant foreign-born populations.  As EIG’s DCI score hit 50, the midpoint, the percentage of foreign-born residents in a city started to drop precipitously.  About the only things interrupting a nearly perfect inverse relationship between rising DCI scores and falling foreign-born populations was Athens-Clarke, a university city with a significant foreign-born faculty and student body.

Then another comparison occurred to me.  In December 2016 I wrote a piece contrasting Gwinnett County to all 56 counties of interior South Georgia.  That contrast was not charitable to South Georgia.  Among other things, I found that Gwinnett County, with only about three-fourths the population of the 56 South Georgia counties, generated 22 percent more in personal income and nearly 50 percent more in federal taxes.  At the same time, it consumed substantially less in social services – less than a third as much in Medicaid costs, for example.

At the time, I wasn’t looking at immigration or foreign-born populations or even thinking about whether there was a relationship between immigration and the overall prosperity of a community.  But, for what it’s worth, it turns out that Gwinnett County has the second-highest proportion of foreign-born residents in the state, 24.7 percent.[ii]  Its overall distress score is 9.0, which puts it 10th in the state and 282nd in the nation.  Gwinnett also does well in other rankings – 15th best in the latest Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Job Tax Credit Rankings[iii] and 5th in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s latest county rankings for health outcomes.

The proportion of foreign-born residents in the 56 South Georgia counties works out to 4.2 percent – fewer than 50,000 people altogether – not even a fourth of the 216,000 foreign-born residents in Gwinnett County.  More than 100 languages are spoken in Gwinnett County’s public schools, which, not for nothing, is the only school system in America to win the prestigious Broad Prize for education twice – first in 2010 and again in 2014.

Gwinnett County is, in fact, already a majority-minority county.  Only 40.3 percent of the county’s population is non-Hispanic white; blacks make up 25.4 percent of the population; Hispanics, 20.5 percent, and Asians or Pacific Islanders, 11.1 percent.

The same sort of picture emerges when you look at this through the prism of my “Trouble in God’s Country” regions.  My 12-county Metro Atlanta region, which generates the lion’s share of the state’s economic output, is home to about 47 percent of the overall population but nearly 72 percent of the foreign-born population.  As this table shows, Metro Atlanta is the only Trouble in God’s Country region where the percentage of foreign-born residents hits double digits.

Total Population % of the Population Foreign-Born Foreign-Born Population (Calculated)
Metro Atlanta 4,727,376 15.1% 715,490
Coastal Ga 579,879 5.4% 31,081
Middle Ga 1,749,350 3.9% 68,737
North Ga 1,882,410 6.9% 130,606
South Ga 1,160,305 4.2% 48,599
Totals 10,099,320 9.8% 994,513

 

Now, this is not to suggest that an infusion of foreign-born residents into a local population is a guarantee of improved economic and civic conditions.  You can absolutely find examples of communities with low percentages of foreign-born populations that are doing well.  And there are differences between the groups of cities shown in the chart above that should be acknowledged.

Geography is one.  All the cities with high distress scores and single-digit percentages of foreign-born residents are located from about the gnat line south; all the cities with low distress scores and double-digit percentages of foreign-borns are clustered across Metro Atlanta’s prosperous northern arc (as is Gwinnett County, and, for that matter, Cobb County, whose profile is fairly similar to Gwinnett’s).

So it may be that immigrants finding their way to Georgia migrated naturally to the most prosperous areas.  Or it may be that they don’t like gnats.  I blame the gnats.

________________________________

[i] Much of the raw data used in this post, and in the chart above, was provided to the author under license by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG), but the analysis and observations are entirely my own – as are any errors I might have made.  EIG does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of, or necessarily agree with, the information in this article.

[ii] The only county with a higher percentage of foreign-born residents than Gwinnett is hapless Stewart County, in southwest Georgia.  The nearly 1,700 foreign-born residents there constitute about 29 percent of the local population, but you probably wouldn’t know it from walking down the street in Lumpkin, the county seat, since virtually all of them are locked up in a federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement prison.

[iii] The Georgia Department of Community Affairs issues Job Tax Credit rankings each year, based on a formula built around local per capita income, poverty rates, and unemployment rates.  Because the purpose of the program is to try to drive economic development in Georgia’s poorer areas, it ranks the counties from worst to best.  On that list, Gwinnett County ranks 145th.  For my purposes, I reverse the DCA list to produce a best-to-worst ranking.

 

Putting the divide between Georgia’s rural and urban counties into perspective

One of the hard things about telling the “Trouble in God’s Country” story is figuring out how to explain the magnitude of Georgia’s urban-rural divide in ways that are actually useful – to the general public as well as policy makers.    It’s not exactly news that Metro Atlantans are more prosperous economically, better educated and healthier than their country cousins.

And, we’ve long had various types of county rankings, and one county is always No. 1 and another is No. 159.  (Right now, Forsyth County ranks first in most categories you can come up with, and we have something of a barroom brawl amongst a fair-sized group counties to see which is at the bottom of the heap in Georgia.  More later on this.)

But rankings don’t give you a real sense of the gap between Georgia’s best and worst, or whether that gap is getting bigger or smaller.  Lately I’ve been wallowing around in various piles of national and 50-state data to see if I could find anything that might be helpful.  I’ve still got more work to do, but herewith a few nuggets from my wallowing to date:

  • The gap between Georgia’s best-off and worst-off counties is probably bigger than in just about any other state. I’ve got a couple of sources on this.  One is from a Washington think tank called the Economic Innovation Group (EIG).  EIG has pulled together several tons of economic, educational, poverty and housing data on all 3,000-plus counties in the country and generated what it calls a “Distressed Communities Index,” or DCI, for each county.  Then it used those index scores to create national rankings.  The best possible DCI is 1 and the worst is 100.  For 2017, the top Georgia county in EIG’s rankings was Oconee County, with a DCI of 1.1 (Forsyth County came in second with a DCI of 1.6).  Oconee ranked 34th nationally; Forsyth, 49th.  At the very bottom of the EIG rankings, in 3,124th place, was Stewart County, with a DCI score of 99.9.  That’s about as big a divide as you can find.  Also worth mentioning: Stewart County had some real competition for that last-place finish.  Five other Georgia counties were nipping at its heels in a race to the bottom: Macon, Hancock, Calhoun, Wheeler and Taliaferro counties all had Distressed Community Indexes of more than 99.
  • My second pot of data on this comes from the folks at County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. Because their data is presented on a state-by-state basis, it takes a little work to build a national picture.  Their report includes premature death rates for 2,900 counties (a couple of hundred had such small populations that they couldn’t generate reliable rates).  Premature death rates – known formally as Years of Potential Life Lost before Age 75, or YPLL 75 – are sort of the Dow Jones Industrial Average of population health.  It’s the best single number to watch to get a feel for the general health of a community.  (EIG, by the way, doesn’t include any health data in its DCI calculations, so this is a useful complement to its work.)  In these rankings, Forsyth is the top-ranked Georgia county and Oconee came in 2nd; their national ranks were 55th and 185th, respectively, and their respective YPLL 75 rates were 4265 and 5283 (with YPLL 75 rates, the lower the number, the better).  At the bottom of this list of 2,900 counties, we find a somewhat different list of Georgia counties.  Miller County came in 2,866th with a YPLL 75 rate of 15646; Warren County did a little better, finishing 2,862nd with a rate of 15422.  Twiggs County came in 2,850th with a score of 15001 and Quitman County finished at 2,841st with a rate of 14,797.  These are truly third-world numbers and obviously among the worst in the nation.
  • One of the things that becomes clear from studying the EIG and County Health Rankings data is that it’s not just rural areas that are in trouble. Just about every major population center outside Metro Atlanta ranks poorly nationally on just about every metric available.  Worst-off is Albany, which posted a 2017 EIG Distress Score of 99.1 and finished 8th on EIG’s list of America’s most-distressed small cities – just barely ahead of Flint, Michigan.  But most of Georgia’s other regional cities didn’t fare a lot better.  On EIG’s list of cities with populations of more than 50,000, Athens-Clarke County, Augusta-Richmond County, Columbus and Valdosta all finished in the bottom quintile nationally, and Savannah just barely avoided falling into the lowest grouping.  (For some reason, EIG didn’t include Macon on its list of Georgia cities, but Bibb County was the second-worst major Georgia county on EIG’s county list, not far ahead of Albany’s Dougherty County.)  The City of Atlanta was in the middle of the pack nationally, with a DCI score of 59.6.  At the top of the Georgia pile was the City of Alpharetta, which ranked 21st nationally with a Distress Score of 2.6 (again, contrast that with Albany’s 99.1 and you find about as big a divide as possible between otherwise comparable Georgia cities).  I won’t go into detail here, but the same is generally true with the County Health Rankings data; Muscogee, Bibb, Richmond and Dougherty all finish in the bottom 500 of the 2,900 counties it ranked nationally.

I think this is important because I’ve long believed that any effort to improve Georgia’s rural areas has to include – and probably start with – the regional hub communities.  Whether they like to admit it or not, rural areas depend on those major populations centers for a wide range of support systems, including employment, healthcare, education and shopping.  If the Macons and Augustas are allowed to slip past some hard-to-discern tipping point, it may well doom dependent rural areas for multiple generations.  As a practical matter, it may already be too late for Albany and much of Southwest Georgia, where the population that isn’t already packing up and leaving is among the least-educated and least-healthy in the nation (if not the world).

——————–

Following are four tables showing the top and bottom 10 Georgia counties in the Economic Innovation Group’s 2017 Distressed Communities Index scores and rankings, and premature death rates as published by County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.  The national rankings shown with the premature death data were developed by the writer by assembling a spreadsheet combining County Health Rankings & Roadmap’s from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

EIG Top 10 Georgia Counties – 2017
County Region EIG Distress Score EIG National Rank
Oconee North Georgia 1.1 34
Forsyth Metro Atlanta 1.6 49
Cherokee Metro Atlanta 2.9 92
Fayette Metro Atlanta 4.9 152
Paulding Metro Atlanta 5.2 163
Coweta Middle Georgia 5.6 174
Cobb Metro Atlanta 6.1 191
Harris Middle Georgia 8.3 261
Henry Metro Atlanta 11.6 362
Gwinnett Metro Atlanta 12.0 375

 

EIG Bottom 10 Georgia Counties – 2017
County Region EIG Distress Score EIG National Rank
Jefferson Middle Georgia 97.8 3,057
Sumter South Georgia 98.1 3,065
Lanier South Georgia 98.4 3,075
Telfair South Georgia 98.9 3,093
Macon Middle Georgia 99.1 3,099
Hancock Middle Georgia 99.5 3,110
Calhoun South Georgia 99.7 3,117
Wheeler South Georgia 99.8 3,119
Taliaferro North Georgia 99.8 3,120
Stewart South Georgia 99.9 3,124

 

County Health Rankings & Roadmaps

Top 10 Georgia Counties for Premature Death (2015-2017)

County Region Premature Death Rate National Rank
Forsyth Metro Atlanta 4265 55
Oconee North Georgia 5131 185
Gwinnett Metro Atlanta 5283 223
Fayette Metro Atlanta 5521 278
Cobb Metro Atlanta 5605 299
Cherokee Metro Atlanta 5654 315
Columbia North Georgia 6084 466
Harris Middle Georgia 6104 476
Wheeler South Georgia 6384 581
Echols South Georgia 6476 633

 

County Health Rankings & Roadmaps

Bottom 10 Georgia Counties for Premature Death (2015-2017)

County Region Premature Death Rate National Rank
Crisp South Georgia 11837 2,639
Emanuel Middle Georgia 11862 2,645
Clinch South Georgia 12262 2,694
Clay South Georgia 12341 2,706
Jeff Davis South Georgia 12805 2,742
Candler South Georgia 13551 2,792
Quitman South Georgia 14797 2,841
Twiggs Middle Georgia 15001 2,850
Warren Middle Georgia 15422 2,862
Miller South Georgia 15646 2,866

 

© Trouble in God’s Country 2019

Coming to Rural Georgia from Outer Space: Broadband Internet Service

I’ve been arguing pretty much since the rural broadband craze started that we’d be nuts to plow probably at least a billion tax dollars — most of it from Metro Atlanta — into running fiber to Georgia’s most sparsely populated counties.

Give the private sector and advancing technology time, I’ve felt, and we’ll probably get a better solution long before the state could plow up all the red clay in rural Georgia and put fiber in the ground.

Satellite-based internet has been around for years, although one of the legitimate raps on its potential as a consumer solution has been speed: the satellites are so far above the Earth that it takes a while for the signal to bounce back and forth.

Well, now comes SpaceX with the launch of 60 low-orbit satellites designed to solve that problem: https://nyti.ms/2M8E4nH

Per the New York Times’s story, these new satellites will orbit the planet at a much lower altitude than the current 22,000 miles: “The Starlink satellites will orbit much lower — between 210 and 710 miles above the surface. That reduces the lagginess, or latency. SpaceX has said performance should be comparable to ground-based cable and optical fiber networks that carry most internet traffic today. Starlink would provide high-speed internet to parts of the world that currently are largely cut off from the modern digital world.”

The Times’s story indicates it’ll take nearly 2,000 of these low-orbit satellites to blanket the planet, but my hunch is SpaceX will get that done long before the State of Georgia could hardwire rural Georgia — and we won’t have to pay for it.

Trump says America is ‘FULL.’ Tell that to Rural Georgia.

(Note: I wrote this yesterday afternoon and decided to sleep on it and give it a fresh read-through this morning.  In the process, I got scooped by The New York Times, which is leading this morning’s web edition with a terrific story on this same issue at https://nyti.ms/2VyTbam.)

Lately President Trump has taken to proclaiming that the United States is “full.” He said it a few times over the last few days and has tweeted it at least a couple of times, including Sunday.

Trump Country Full

Well, not really.
Let me say here that I know full well that this notion is entirely ludicrous and will no doubt subject me to all manner of ridicule, much of it probably deserved. Truth is, I’m not really suggesting anything specific. I’m not even sure what a specific recommendation would look like.
But …
The truth is that a core problem afflicting rural America is population loss. Here in Georgia, whole regions are hollowing out. In 2017, 71 of Georgia’s 159 counties recorded more deaths than births.  All but one, Glynn County, were rural.
Georgia has 33 counties with populations of less than 10,000 people. Of those, only five posted any population gains at all over the five-year period 2013 through 2017 (the most recent for which the U.S. Census Bureau has posted estimates). And of the five that did grow, only two managed to grow more than one percent – for the entire five-year period.
The 16 counties that make up the southwestern-most corner of Georgia lost more than 9,000 people in that five-year period, or 3.4 percent of their population. Only Lee County, which has evolved as the white-flight county north of Albany and Dougherty County, posted a gain (2.6 percent) for that five-year period; the other 15 all lost population.
Dougherty County, historically the economic, cultural and political center of Southwest Georgia, is bleeding population; in the 2013-2017 span, it lost 5.5 percent of its population, or more than 1,000 people a year.
It shouldn’t need to be said that losing population is generally not a good thing. The pattern in rural Georgia is that young people leave, especially if they have a college education. Population decline naturally shrinks the consumer base, and that leads to weakened sales and property tax revenues. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that some areas of rural Georgia are now in a death spiral.
Could it be that we have two problems here that might help solve one another?
Again, I know this is nuts, for a whole host of reasons. Neither Trump nor his loyal Republican Southern governors (who preside over many of the worst rural disaster areas in the country) would even begin to entertain a strategy of deliberately importing, say, caravans of people from Mexico and Central America to dying rural communities in South Georgia. What’s more, the vast majority of those counties voted overwhelmingly for Trump, and it’s a sure bet these are the folks who favor building that wall, even if we have to pay for it.
All that said, it’s worth noting that, to some degree, people from outside the U.S. are already finding their way to struggling rural communities, even as locals move away. Probably the most dramatic example in Georgia is Stewart County, which is one of those 16 counties in deep southwest Georgia.
Over the five-year period form 2013 through 2017, according to Census Bureau data, 552 locals moved out of Stewart County, and there were 122 more deaths than births. But 479 people from outside the United States moved into Stewart County.  (Note to self: Find out what the heck’s happening in Stewart County.)
For that 16-county Southwest Georgia region, international in-migration is about the only positive trend going. For the period 2013-through-2017, literally every one of those 16 counties suffered a loss of domestic population – locals moving out. Half that group had at least some international in-migration. Altogether, the 16-county region lost 13,515 domestic residents and got back about one-tenth of that – 1,332 people – in international migrants.
As a region, Southwest Georgia is still reporting more births than deaths, but the margin is narrowing. Eleven of the 16 counties posted more deaths than births for the 2013-through-2017 period, and not one of the 16 is experiencing anything that could be considered a positive trend in its birth-to-death ratio.
As this graph shows, these trends have been a long time developing. The number of births in the region began to drop precipitously in 2007, and the number of deaths began a slower climb in 2011. If the current trends continue, these lines will cross within a few years.

SW GA Births & Deaths 1994-2017.jpg
It will, of course, take a lot more than new population growth to revitalize rural Georgia’s struggling counties and communities.  But without that new population, it’s not clear that much else will matter.

For the third time in this piece, I know what I’m suggesting here is crazy and has less than zero chance of happening, in any form or fashion. But for South Georgia and much of the rest of rural America, the only thing that might be crazier is to do nothing. For these areas, it’s way past time to start thinking outside the box.

(Notes: The data in this post was drawn primarily from two sources.  The population data came from a recent update by the USDA’s Economic Research Service of U.S. Census Bureau county-level estimates.  The data from the Births & Deaths chart immediately above was pulled from the Georgia Department of Health’s OASIS system.  The 16 counties included in the 16-county Southwest Georgia region referenced in this piece are: Baker, Calhoun, Clay, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Grady, Lee, Miller, Mitchell, Quitman, Randolph, Seminole, Stewart, Terrell, and Webster.)

© Trouble in God’s Country 2019

2018 Georgia Election Takeaway: Rural Georgia ain’t going down easy

My Trouble in God’s Country research has been focused primarily on the widening economic, educational and health divides between Metro Atlanta and the rest of the state, especially rural Georgia.  The extent of the political divide has been obvious and well understood for a long time, and it’s not a topic I’ve paid much attention to.

But last Tuesday night, as I watched the election results come in and poked around on the AJC and Georgia Secretary of State’s websites for county-level returns, I noticed that Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams seemed to be lagging behind her party’s 2014 gubernatorial nominee, Jason Carter, in rural Georgia but outperforming him in Metro Atlanta and other urban areas.

Did that mean, I wondered, that urban and rural Georgians were continuing to grow even further apart politically as well as economically, educationally and health-wise?

To answer this question, I pulled top-of-ticket results for the last five general elections in Georgia – the 2010 gubernatorial election, 2012 presidential, 2014 gubernatorial, 2016 presidential, and 2018 gubernatorial.  Yeah, you can quibble with comparing gubernatorial and presidential results, but in this case I think it’s useful.

As a backdrop, it bears noting that virtually everybody agrees that population growth and demographic change are working to the advantage of Democrats and will eventually tip the state back to their advantage.  That’s inarguably true.  But against that backdrop, the first conclusion to be drawn from the 2018 results is this: Rural Georgia ain’t going down easy.

As of the results posted on the Secretary of State’s site Monday morning, November 12, Republican gubernatorial nominee Brian Kemp is leading in 130 mostly rural counties while Abrams is ahead in the other largely urban 29 counties.  The counties Kemp is carrying are home to 2.9 million registered voters versus 3.5 million in the Abrams counties.

With that kind of numerical advantage, you have to wonder how Abrams can be losing.  Two answers.  The first is turnout.  Kemp got a 61.5 percent turnout in his 130 counties versus 59.8 percent in the Abrams counties – not huge, but important in a race as close as this one is.  (As of this writing, the Secretary of State’s website is showing Kemp leading 1,975,843 to 1,916,943.)

The second obvious factor was margin.  Kemp is winning bigger in his small rural counties than Abrams is in her big urban ones.  Which is saying something, because Abrams is ahead by a margin of 66.7 percent to 33.3 percent, or 2:1.  Kemp, though, is running up the score in his 130 counties by a margin of 71.4 percent to 28.6 percent.

And there are some interesting subplots under those topline numbers.  In Metro Atlanta, for example, heavily black and Democratic Clayton County, on the southside, went overwhelmingly for Abrams: 88.2 percent to 11.8 percent for Kemp.  But turnout was only 54.2 percent.  Clayton County gave Abrams her largest margin of victory but one of her smallest turnouts.

On the north side of Metro Atlanta, meanwhile, heavily white and Republican Cherokee and Forsyth counties went for Kemp by a combined margin of 72.5 percent to 27.5 percent — and their combined voter turnout was 63.5 percent, nearly 10 points higher than Clayton County’s.  If Clayton County had matched the Cherokee-Forsyth turnout levels and maintained the same 88:12 split, Abrams would have netted another 12,000 votes.

But I meander.

Back to my original question: Is the political divide widening between Metro Atlanta and Rural Georgia?  The answer is an unequivocal yes – although you might not know it just to look at the statewide results.

In 2010, former Governor Roy Barnes, the Democrat who eight years earlier had surrendered the governor’s office to the first Republican winner in a couple of thousand years, was making a comeback attempt against Republican nominee Nathan Deal; Deal won handily, 55.2 percent to 44.8 percent.

(Caveat # 1: In this analysis, I am ignoring third party candidates and looking only at votes cast for the Democratic and Republican Party nominees.)

In the 2012 presidential election, GOP nominee Mitt Romney got 54 percent of the vote to 46 percent for President Barack Obama, the incumbent Democrat.  In the 2014 governor’s race, Governor Deal beat Democratic challenger Jason Carter by the same 54-to-46 margin.

In the 2016 presidential election, the margin actually got a little closer: Republican Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton here in Georgia 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent, a margin of 5.3 percentage points.  And, of course, the margin in the current governor’s race is razor thin: Of the votes cast for either the Democrat or the Republican, Kemp currently has 50.8 percent of the vote to 49.2 percent for Abrams.

(Caveat # 2: The votes here in Georgia are, at this writing, still being counted, with an unknown number of provisional ballots still out.  We may or may not be headed for a recount if not a runoff.  Whatever the final results, they will obviously change the numbers I’m currently using, but I don’t think it will change the overall picture.)

So, over the past decade or so, the Republican margin of victory peaked at a little over 10 percentage points and has lately been shrinking down to a point or so.  But where those votes are coming from has shifted dramatically.

To get at this, I wallowed around in the data for a while and finally wound up breaking Georgia’s 159 counties down into four groups:

  • Big Democratic Counties. These are 16 counties that have at least 25,000 registered voters and have generally voted Democratic over the years. It includes the big ITP counties in Metro Atlanta and a couple of recent newcomers to the Blue column, Cobb and Gwinnett.  More than half the state’s registered voters live in these 16 counties.  In 2010, Barnes carried these counties over Deal by what seemed like a healthy 57.3 percent-to-42.7 percent margin.  This year, Abrams is leading Kemp 2:1 in these same 16 counties.  Put another way, these counties have shifted 9.8 percentage points further into the Democratic column.  One measure of this group’s population growth and rising clout is that Abrams already has more votes from these counties than Barnes and Deal combined in 2010.
  • Small Republican Counties. This is a group of 101 rural counties with fewer than 25,000 registered voters, and it’s pretty much a polar opposite of the Big D counties above.  In 2010, Deal carried these counties 2:1 over Barnes; this year, Kemp is ahead of Abrams just a hair shy of 3:1.  As a group, these counties are 7.7 percent redder now than they were in 2010.  The problem for Republicans is that many of these counties, especially in Middle and South Georgia, are hollowing out and losing population.  They may still be able to run up the score in these areas, but there’s not enough growth to keep up with the Big D counties.
  • Large & Middle-Sized Republican Counties. This is a group of 29 counties with at least 25,000 registered voters that are lining up with Kemp and other Republicans in this election cycle.  It includes most of the suburban and exurban counties surrounding Atlanta, as well as fast-growing communities in North Georgia and bedroom counties around the state (Oconee, Houston, Columbia, etc.).  The good news for Republicans is that these are for the most part growing counties and they are overwhelmingly red.  The less than good news is that they aren’t getting any redder; in fact, as a group, they’re 3.3 percentage points bluer this year than they were in 2010.  One example: Forsyth County gave 85.2 percent of its 2010 vote to Deal and only 14.8 percent to Barnes; this year, Kemp is carrying Forsyth with a relatively meager 71.6 percent to Abrams’s 28.4 percent.  That’s a 13.6 percentage point shift toward the Democrats in a decade.  Still, the GOP’s future in Georgia probably lies in retrenching in these counties.
  • Small Democratic Counties. These are 13 largely rural and heavily black counties with fewer than 25,000 registered voters that are still voting Democrat, but – like the Small Republican Counties discussed above – they’re actually trending Republican.  In 2010, they went nearly 60:40 for Barnes; this year, they’re a paler shade of blue and going 55:45 for Abrams.  If that’s good news for Republicans, the bad news is that, combined, these counties cast fewer than 90,000 votes.

So, urban Georgia is getting bluer and rural Georgia is getting redder.  This is obviously just a local example of the divide taking place all over the country and of the extreme polarization that has afflicted U.S. politics in recent years.

This chart shows Democratic and Republican votes by groups of counties for the 2010 and 2018 gubernatorial elections.

A key takeaway from this chart and analysis is this: If Brian Kemp hangs on and wins this election, he’ll owe his victory to two very disparate voting blocs of Republicans – very affluent, well-educated suburban and exurban voters on the one hand, and some of the least educated, poorest (and for that matter least healthy) voters in rural Georgia on the other.  My hunch is that their public policy priorities are very different, and balancing their interests will require a nifty bit of political magic.

Here’s the list of counties by the groups described above:

  • Big Democratic Counties: Bibb, Chatham, Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb Dougherty, Douglas, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Liberty, Muscogee, Newton, Richmond, Rockdale.
  • Big & Middle-Sized GOP Counties: Barrow, Bartow, Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Carroll, Catoosa, Cherokee, Columbia, Coweta, Effingham, Fayette, Floyd, Forsyth, Glynn, Gordon, Hall, Houston, Jackson, Laurens, Lowndes, Oconee, Paulding, Spalding, Thomas, Troup, Walker, Walton, Whitfield.
  • Small Democratic Counties: Baldwin, Calhoun, Clay, Hancock, Jefferson, Macon, Randolph, Stewart, Sumter, Talbot, Taliaferro, Terrell, Warren.
  • Small Republican Counties: Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Baker, Banks, Ben Hill, Berrien, Bleckley, Brantley, Brooks, Burke, Butts, Candler, Charlton, Chattahoochee, Chattooga, Clinch, Coffee, Colquitt, Cook, Crawford, Crisp, Dade, Dawson, Decatur, Dodge, Dooly, Early, Echols, Elbert, Emanuel, Evans, Fannin, Franklin, Gilmer, Glascock, Grady, Greene, Habersham, Haralson, Harris, Hart, Heard, Irwin, Jasper, Jeff Davis, Jenkins, Johnson, Jones, Lamar, Lanier, Lee, Lincoln, Long, Lumpkin, Madison, Marion, McDuffie, McIntosh, Meriwether, Miller, Mitchell, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Murray, Oglethorpe, Peach, Pickens, Pierce, Pike, Polk, Pulaski, Putnam, Quitman, Rabun, Schley, Screven, Seminole, Stephens, Tattnall, Taylor, Telfair, Tift, Toombs, Towns, Treutlen, Turner, Twiggs, Union, Upson, Ware, Washington, Wayne, Webster, Wheeler, White, Wilcox, Wilkes, Wilkinson, Worth.

© Trouble in God’s Country 2018

Breaking News: Pierce County GOP opposes secession

Well, darn.

For a few days there I thought we had a major story brewing down in Pierce County.

Leaders of the Republican Party in that deep South Georgia community had included a question on Tuesday’s party primary ballot asking whether the “counties South of Macon (should) join together to form the 51st state of South Georgia.”

Going into Tuesday’s election, I would have bet a cup of coffee it had a fair chance of passing. I have spent a good bit of time in South Georgia over the years and folks down there can be a provincial lot.  Many don’t much care for Atlanta.

But in a perhaps surprising display of common sense, Pierce County’s Republicans voted better than two-to-one not to break away from North Georgia and Metro Atlanta.  The final tally was 703 ayes to 1,844 nays.

On a personal level, I’ll confess to a certain amount of disappointment a new State of South Georgia is now apparently off the table.

It probably would have moved my home state of Mississippi up in the national rankings overnight.

In one fell swoop, it would almost certainly have created the poorest, sickest and least educated state in the union. Folks in Mississippi (and for that matter Alabama) would have been able to look forward to saying “thank God for South Georgia” when all the new national education and economic rankings come out each year.

Alas, I guess that’s not to be.

More seriously, the Pierce County initiative, unsuccessful though it was, does beg a serious discussion about the relationship between South Georgia (and, more generally, rural Georgia) and Metro Atlanta in particular – especially given the way the head of the Pierce County Republican Party, Kay Godwin, framed the issue going into Tuesday’s election.

“We don’t get anything from Atlanta,” she told The Blackshear Times. “This is an effort to force them to pay attention to us.  We are not going to secede, but I hope it passes so maybe it will produce action across the state.”

As the talking heads on cable news like to say, there’s a lot there to unpack.  I’ve emailed Ms. Godwin and asked her to expand on her comments, but at this writing I have not heard back from her.

Let’s start with “we don’t get anything from Atlanta.”

That’s nonsense.

The reality, probably not fully appreciated in any region of the state, is that Metro Atlanta has been subsidizing the rest of the state — and South Georgia in particular — for decades.

The Fiscal Research Center at Georgia State University took a mind-numbingly deep dive into this issue nearly a decade ago and found, basically, that as of 2004 (the most recent year for which the author could get comprehensive data) the 10 core Metro Atlanta counties generated 51 percent of state government revenues and consumed only 37 percent of the state’s expenditures, leaving the rest for the other 149 counties.

That’s very much in line with my own Trouble in God’s Country (TIGC) research.  Working with federal IRS data that’s available online, I found that in 2013 the 12 counties I classify as Metro Atlanta incurred right at two-thirds of the state’s federal tax liability — $20.4 billion versus $10.6 billion for the other 147 counties – while consuming, to cite just one example, only about a third of the state’s Medicaid expenses. And that was with less than half the population: 4.65 million people in Metro Atlanta versus 5.34 million in the other 147 counties.

Let’s narrow that focus to South Georgia. Working with that same 2013 data, we find that the 56 counties that make up my TIGC South Georgia region incurred about $1.7 billion in 2013 federal income tax liability, or about 5.5 percent of the state’s total.  At the same time, it consumed about 17.2 percent of the state’s Medicaid benefits.  The level of subsidy implied by these numbers should cause local leaders to pause before they start complaining about Atlanta not doing anything for them.

Truth is, South Georgia (and for that matter most of rural Georgia) is in a world of hurt. In some respects these areas are literally dying, and the breadth and scope of the problems afflicting just about everything from the gnat line south demand some sort of comprehensive solution.

I’ve touched on economics in this piece, but I could make parallel cases using educational and healthcare data.

South Georgia is the least educated and least healthy region of the state, and those facts translate into both an inability to support itself and a dependency on public support for Medicaid and other services.

Atlanta will have to be involved — both in the form of state-driven remedies and as a source of necessary funding. The longer the problems go untended, the bigger — and more expensive — they will become.

The real problem for Ms. Godwin and South Georgia is that these societal and fiscal problems are coming to a head just as their worst political nightmares are also coming true.

For all of Georgia’s history — up until right about now — rural Georgia ruled the political roost. Rural areas generally were smart enough to elect wily young politicians to the legislature and leave them in place to hold Atlanta at bay.

But that’s changing.

By my count, just under half of the current House and Senate districts lie partly or wholly within my TIGC 12-county Metro Atlanta. With the next census and reapportionment, political power will concentrate even further in Metro Atlanta, probably giving it a majority of the legislature.

South Georgia can forget about ever again electing a governor.

What this means is that the political powers who will soon hold virtually all the purse strings may soon be asking why they should be diverting tax dollars generated in Metro Atlanta —which has its own problems — to South Georgia.

Given that reality, South Georgia probably needs a better strategy than demanding “action” and “attention” by threatening to secede.

Who knows? We might take you up on it.

© Trouble in God’s Country 2018

 

R.I.P., House Bill 887. We hardly knew ye.

Well, that didn’t take long.

House Bill 887, the Georgia Communications Services Tax Act, seems to have pretty much crashed and burned within days of being introduced, per today’s AJC.

From the story, by state capitol reporter Mark Niesse:

What’s left of the legislation is a policy for rural internet expansion without any funding.

The latest version of HB 887, which shrunk from 46 pages to 16 pages Thursday, would allow local electric membership corporations to provide internet services, reduce fees EMCs can charge for internet providers to use their poles and set a policy for rural communities to qualify for potential future grant funding.

This is probably a better starting point for the rural broadband discussion anyway.  More news as it develops.