Couple of stories bubbled up in the national media this weekend that echo trends we’ve covered here at Trouble in God’s Country.
First, The New York Times leads today’s edition with the best piece I’ve seen yet on the global fertility bust.
About five years ago I began to pick up on the fact that a steadily increasing number of Georgia counties were reporting more deaths than births. As the chart below shows, the number of counties reporting more deaths than births began to tick up around 2010 and has now risen pretty steadily through 2019, the latest year for which county-level birth and death data is available. All but a handful of these counties have been rural.
(The Georgia Department of Public Health should report 2020 data over the next month or so.)
At the time, my focus was exclusively on Georgia and I didn’t know what was driving the change. Not long after first noticing that trend, though, I began to see it as part of a larger pattern of adverse economic, education, and population health trends that were slamming rural Georgia. Given the timing, my conclusion has been that these were trends were “aftershocks” from the Great Recession that hit in 2008 and ’09.
I still think that’s the case, but I’m not sure it explains the global nature of the baby bust. The Times piece suggests, without going into any detail, that the global phenomenon is also largely rural, but it doesn’t take much of a stab at possible causes.
It also suggests that Africa has probably the world’s highest fertility rate, which mirrors another of my TIGC findings: that the pattern of more deaths than births here in Georgia is largely among whites. I touched on this toward the bottom of the last piece I wrote about this: “While 78 counties recorded more overall deaths than births, 103 counties reported more White deaths than White births; only 48 counties reported more Black deaths than Black births.”
I’ve been meaning to loop back to that data point but never have; this gives me another reason to revisit the subject.
The other story that caught my eye this weekend was also in the Times — this report on a movement by a handful of counties in rural eastern Oregon to secede from Oregon and join Idaho.
This mirrors periodic grumbling from south of the gnat line here in Georgia. The most recent instance I’m aware of was a ballot question put to Pierce County Republicans in 2018. It asked whether the hundred-plus “counties South of Macon (should) join together to form the 51st state of South Georgia.” In a stunning display of good sense, Pierce County Republicans rejected that idea by better than two-to-one.
In most respects, the Oregon story is just another example of the urban-rural divide in American politics. It’s similar to the Georgia situation in that Oregon has one overwhelmingly dominant urban area — Portland — whose growth and economic prosperity is outstripping the rest of the state. It’s different, however, in that Portland already dominates the state’s politics, whereas, here in Georgia, Metro Atlanta is just on the cusp of doing so.
In Oregon, rural conservatives are yowling about the liberal policies coming out of Portland and the Democratic-controlled state legislature. Here in Georgia, the rural areas are still holding their own, if only narrowly.
Once this year’s final Census numbers are in, the reapportionment of congressional and legislative seats that will follow will inevitably push more political power into Metro Atlanta — no matter how effective at gerrymandering the Republicans now in command of the General Assembly prove to be.
One topic to watch is the effect reapportionment has on Georgia’s urban-rural tensions. Secession may be a long shot, but it will be interesting to see whether newly empowered urban and suburban legislative delegations (both Democrats and Republicans) begin to revisit funding formulas that have long favored rural Georgia — and how rural Georgia responds to any such development.
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