Business Insider went up yesterday with a story about the 50 most miserable cities in America, a list that included Albany at 18th and Macon at 47th. The wonder is that there weren’t more, and I’d wager that Augusta and Columbus, perhaps among others, didn’t miss the list by much.
Business Insider built its list using Census data that “(took) into consideration population change (because if people are leaving it’s usually for a good reason), the percentage of people working, median household incomes, the percentage of people without healthcare, median commute times, and the number of people living in poverty.”
To a significant degree, the Business Insider list echoes findings by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG), which for the past two years has used its Distressed Communities Index (DCI) to rank all U.S. counties as well as all cities with populations of at least 50,000. EIG’s DCI includes several of the same metrics as Business Insider’s misery index, but one significant difference is that Business Insider looks at population trends.
I think that’s an important metric and one that’s largely overlooked in evaluating the health of Georgia’s cities and counties. By my count, 68 of Georgia’s 159 counties have (according to Census Bureau estimates) lost population over the past five years. The vast majority of those are rural Middle and South Georgia counties. (I’ve long thought the Georgia Department of Community Affairs needs to retool its Job Tax Credit rankings to reflect population trends, but that’s a subject for another post.)
Another interesting aspect of the Business Insider list has to do with what’s missing. While Florida had a half-dozen entrants on BI’s bottom 50, Georgia’s other contiguous Old South neighbors managed to stay off the list entirely: Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina didn’t have a single bottom 50 city amongst them. Even Mississippi and Louisiana had only one bottom 50 city apiece — Jackson at 32nd and Shreveport at 45th. How so? Is there anything to be learned by comparing Georgia’s cities to those in our neighboring states?
Finally, the BI list reinforces (at least in my mind) the notion that any serious rural revitalization effort has to include — and probably start with — the regional hub cities. As I’ve written before, many of Georgia’s major regional cities are suffering their own types of problems, and if they’re allowed to slide past some hard-to-discern tipping point, it would probably doom the rural counties around them for decades to come.
Couple of reference notes:
- I’ve written about the Economic Innovation Group’s Distressed Community Index a couple of times, here and here.
- You can find the details of EIG’s Distressed Communities Index on page 3 of this report.
- And finally, a tip of the hat to Doug Hall, TIGC’s man in Mexico, for flagging the Business Insider list on Facebook. I probably would have missed it otherwise.