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Posts tagged ‘Education’

Rural Georgia: Doing its part to send Metro Atlanta kids to college

One recurring theme in my Trouble in God’s Country research is that Metro Atlanta is paying the lion’s share of taxes in Georgia while consuming a much smaller portion of social services, such as Medicaid and food stamp benefits.  Rural Georgia, generally speaking, doesn’t cover its costs for those services.

In at least one regard, however, rural Georgians seem to be doing their best to balance the books.  They’re spending millions of dollars on Georgia lottery tickets that help send tens of thousands of Metro Atlanta kids to college.

Of course, a fair number of rural Georgians get advanced education through lottery-funded HOPE scholarship grants – at either University System of Georgia (USG) institutions or one of the state’s technical colleges – but Metro Atlanta is clearly getting the better end of this particular deal.

I’m not sure this qualifies as real news.  It probably won’t come as a surprise to political leaders and policymakers who work in these areas.  Also, I should stipulate that the Georgia lottery and HOPE scholarship data I’ve been studying comes with a handful of significant caveats.  Available data from the University System of Georgia (USG) and the U.S. Census Bureau make it possible to paint pretty precise county-level and regional pictures of educational attainment patterns and college enrollment trends throughout the state.

The lottery and HOPE data are a little fuzzier and the resulting pictures are therefore a bit blurrier.  After studying the data for a bit, I’ve decided the best way to tell this story is to present two views – a big-picture, macro view, and then a more isolated micro snapshot.

First, the big picture, and here the caveats are especially important.  Lottery sales are reported on a county-specific basis, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a lottery ticket sold in a particular county is purchased by a resident of that same county – or even a Georgia resident.  Inter-county or interstate sales aren’t tracked, although it’s pretty obvious that many of the Georgia counties on the Alabama border are pulling in millions of dollars from that state[i].

HOPE scholarships, meanwhile, are awarded to students in their county of residence, not their county of origin.  Odds are that the initial awards do go to students in their county of origin, but it’s also obvious that many students effectively move to their college towns and establish residence there while they’re still receiving HOPE awards.  Even a cursory review of data for college communities makes that clear.

Still, the big picture is a useful starting point.  For that I organized lottery sales and HOPE scholarship data by my five Trouble in God’s Country regions – 12 Metro Atlanta counties, 41 North Georgia counties, 43 Middle Georgia counties, 56 South Georgia counties, and seven Coastal Georgia counties.  Here’s how those numbers shake out:

Regional Lottery and Hope Analysis

The obvious takeaway from this is that Metro Atlanta and North Georgia were the only two regions that got larger shares of the HOPE scholarship grants than they ponied up for lottery tickets.  The largely rural areas of Middle, South and Coastal Georgia didn’t do nearly as well.

For the micro view, I organized a cluster of 16 largely rural counties in interior Middle and South Georgia; I’m calling it the South Central Georgia Cluster[ii]Cherokee S. Georgia MapAll these counties are far enough away from a state line that they shouldn’t get a lot of interstate lottery dollars, and most (with a couple of exceptions) are well off the beaten path of the major interstate highways.  In other words, it’s a fair presumption that their lottery sales are largely local.

As a point of comparison, I chose Cherokee County, an exurban county on the northern edge of Metro Atlanta (that’s the green county in the northern part of the map).  In 1994, the 16-county cluster of rural counties was home to a little more than twice as many people as Cherokee County – 231,402 to 107,569, according to Census estimates for that year.  But from the git-go, the rural counties were more enthusiastic lottery players.  In 1994 (the first full year of the lottery), lottery sales in those 16 counties were 3.6 times as much as in Cherokee County.

Today, the populations are roughly equivalent: 254,149 for Cherokee County versus 271,182 for the 16 rural counties, based on 2018 Census Bureau estimates (the latest available).

But lottery sales in those 16 counties are still more than double Cherokee County’s: $151.9 million to $69.3 million.  If Cherokee County and the 16 South Central Georgia counties constituted a state of sorts, here’s what their total respective shares of the lottery sales and HOPE grants would look like over the life of the programs:

South Central Cherokee Comparison

Perhaps more interesting than the total shares of lottery sales and HOPE grants is the way the trend lines evolved over time.  From 1994 through 2011, the 16-county South Central Georgia Cluster received more in HOPE scholarships than Cherokee County.  But in 2012, both areas took major hits in HOPE funding (as did the state as a whole).  The South Central counties suffered a 43.2 percent hit in HOPE scholarship grants and still haven’t gotten back to their 2011 level; Cherokee County dropped 26.5 percent but recovered more quickly and had gotten nearly all the way back to its 2011 high by 2017.  The result has been that Cherokee County passed the 16 rural counties in HOPE grants in 2012 and has been widening the gap ever since.

South Central Cluster Cherokee Trendlines

This matches a pattern I’ve seen in other education-related data.  As I noted in my last post, up through 2010, Metro Atlanta had trailed the other 147 counties in the state in fall freshman enrollment at USG colleges.  But those lines crossed in 2011 and the gap has been widening ever since.  The same pattern shows up in a comparison of Gwinnett County and all 56 counties of interior South Georgia from late 2016.

I’ve got more work to do on all this.  I need to take a deep dive into enrollment patterns at the state’s technical colleges, and I’m expecting to get a breakout on HOPE scholarship grants by type of institution – USG, technical college, or private college – fairly soon.  I’ll try to update all this within a couple of weeks.

Even with that work still to be done – and with all the caveats stipulated above – it seems fair to suggest that a lot of poor folks in rural Georgia are sending a lot of Metro Atlanta kids to college.

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[i] I figured this out when I was trying to get a handle on lottery sales patterns in different parts of the state.  One approach I took was to calculate lottery sales per capita – in other words, to divide total lottery sales by population.  The state average for 2018 was $437.08 per capita.  Far and away the top producer was Quitman County at more than $4,800 per capita.  One of the smallest and poorest counties in the state, Quitman County sits forlornly on a stretch of the Chattahoochee River that is known as Walter F. George Lake in Georgia and Lake Eufaula in Alabama; Quitman County’s top economic asset in this regard is no doubt the Ernest Vandiver Causeway, which spans the lake and connects it to the State of Alabama, which is one of about a half-dozen U.S. states that still doesn’t have a lottery of its own.  While Quitman County’s per capita sales dwarf those of all other counties, seven of the top 10 per capita sales counties border Alabama, and two others are just east of Quitman County.

[ii] The counties included in the South Central Georgia Cluster are: Atkinson, Bacon, Ben Hill, Bleckley, Coffee, Dodge, Irwin, Jeff Davis, Laurens, Montgomery, Pulaski, Telfair, Toombs, Treutlen, Wheeler, and Wilcox.

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

 

Thanks, Mr. President, for giving us a new way to think about Georgia’s declining regions

By Charles Hayslett

File this under every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining.  President Trump’s characterization of Haiti and various South American and African countries as “shitholes” may have torpedoed a DACA deal, triggered a global diplomatic uproar and made it more likely that the federal government will shut down this weekend.  On the bright side, it also gives us a memorable way to think about the deteriorating counties and communities right here in Georgia.

Now, because I am a nice guy and don’t want to offend my friends in rural Georgia (and especially because my wife is from South Georgia and would not appreciate it), I am going to refrain from personally applying the president’s epithet to our state’s more unfortunate areas.  You’ll just have to use your imagination.

In the wake of the president’s unfortunate description, his surrogates have worked hard to shift the debate from the seemingly racist overtones of Trump’s reported language to a broader discussion about a merit-based approach to immigration.  I’m generalizing here, but they seem to be saying that Trump’s language wasn’t a commentary on the racial make-up of the nations he referenced (overwhelmingly black or brown), but the supposed economic prowess and productivity of their citizens.

I’m happy to take them at their word.  In that context, and by that standard, it seems reasonable to suggest that America has its own share of such areas – specifically, counties and communities that have long been on a downhill slide just about any way you want to measure it: economically, educationally, in terms of health status, etc.  It also seems reasonable to point out that these areas voted overwhelmingly for Donald J. Trump, and to wonder what he would like to do for voters who were among his most ardent supporters – who, indeed, were a large chunk of his base.

To be fair, Trump also won many of the state’s most affluent counties, which also tend to be deeply Republican, including growing suburban and exurban counties like Fayette, Forsyth, Cherokee and Dawson.  But a review of 2016 General Election results suggests Trump owes a large measure of his margin in Georgia to what might indelicately be called the, well, you-know-what vote.

Altogether, Trump carried 127 counties in Georgia.  Of the 4.7 million people living in those counties, 77.1 percent were white and 18.4 percent were black.  Based on the most recent educational attainment data available, they were also home to slightly more high school dropouts than college graduates – 625,808 adults without a high school degree versus 625,161 with at least a bachelor’s degree.  In contrast, the other 32 counties that went for Clinton were home to more than twice as many college graduates than high school dropouts – 1.2 million to 532,000.

That educational disadvantage translates, among other things, into weaker economic output, poorer health and higher healthcare costs.  The 127 Trump counties generated $10.45 billion in 2013 federal taxes (the most recent IRS data I’ve analyzed) versus $20.5 billion from the 32 Clinton counties.  At the same time, while generating basically twice as much in federal taxes, the Clinton counties (home to the larger population) consumed only about 17 percent more in FY2017 Medicaid costs than the Trump counties: $5.03 billion versus $4.3 billion.  One result of that math is that Medicaid patients from the Trump counties cost the state about 2.2 percent more per patient than those in the Clinton counties: $5,136 to $5,026 each.

What’s more, if educational trends are any indication, the economic and health gaps will almost certainly continue to widen.  In the fall of 2016, the University System of Georgia admitted a total of 41,906 students from throughout the state; 23,325 came from the Clinton counties and 18,581 from the Trump counties. 

But those overall numbers actually mask the extent of the differences.  Of the 41,906 students admitted that fall, 11,756 were accepted at the state’s top four research universities – Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Georgia State University and Regents University.  Of those, more than twice as many were from the more economically productive Clinton counties than the Trump counties: 8,421 versus 3,335.

An even starker picture emerges when you look at the state’s most economically depressed counties.  The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) manages the state’s job tax credit program, which is designed to steer businesses and jobs to the state’s poorest counties by offering substantial tax credits for each new job created.  This year, DCA lists 71 counties in its Tier 1 category.  Only 721 students from those counties made it into one of the top four research universities.

And even that number is deceptive.  Of the 71 Tier 1 counties, the only one in Metro Atlanta is Clayton County, which sent 233 high school graduates to one or the other of the research universities.  The other 70 counties split the remaining 488 students.  Ten of those failed to send a single student to one of the top four Georgia schools.

In contrast, Fulton County, whose 5th congressional district Trump once said was in “horrible shape and falling apart,” sent 3,924 students to University System institutions in the fall of 2016, more than all the Trump counties combined; 1,971 of those were selected to one of the top four research universities.  It also generated 8.5 times as much in 2013 federal taxes as it consumed in FY2017 Medicaid benefits (and, of course, it went heavily for Clinton over Trump).

My purpose in writing this is in no way to denigrate Georgia’s poorest and least educated counties, or to in any way re-litigate the 2016 presidential campaign (although I suppose candor requires an acknowledgement that I am no fan of President Trump).  Indeed, I have devoted a fair chunk of the past several years to researching and writing a book aimed at putting a spotlight on the widening divide between Metro Atlanta and the rest of Georgia, especially the state’s poorest areas, and to exploring public policy solutions to the challenges posed.  It’s a tough nut to crack, and there are no easy solutions – either for, well, Georgia’s you-know-what holes, or for the more affluent areas that will inevitably be stuck with the tab. 

In an odd sort of way, President Trump may have performed a useful service where this issue is concerned.  In condemning countries whose emigrants to the United States he obviously sees as unproductive and uneducated drags on the nation’s resources, he has invited what could be a useful discussion about American communities that could be characterized in the same manner.

 

South Georgia vs. Gwinnett County

By Charles Hayslett

Here’s an easy way to understand the widening gap between Metro Atlanta and the rest of Georgia.

Compare all 56 counties of interior South Georgia to Gwinnett County alone.

Gwinnett County’s 2013 population was estimated at 859,304 – just under three-fourths of the 1.16 million people living in our 56-county South Georgia region.

But despite that population disadvantage, Gwinnett County:

  • Generates more income and contributes more in taxes than all 56 counties of South Georgia combined. According to IRS data, Gwinnett County’s total income for 2013 was $21.2 billion versus $17.4 billion for South Georgia.  Similarly, Gwinnett County taxpayers paid $2.5 billion in federal taxes while South Georgia taxpayers contributed $1.7 billion.
  • Consumes substantially less in social services than South Georgia. In 2013, as one example, Gwinnett County consumed less than a third as much in Medicaid services than South Georgia.  The federal share of South Georgia’s Medicaid costs totaled $927.6 million; Gwinnett County, $266.2 million.  The picture for SNAP (food stamps) and other social benefits is similar.South Georgia vs Gwinnett County
  • Is home to significantly more college graduates than South Georgia. Based on data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS), there were 175,290 college graduates in Gwinnett County over the period 2009-13 versus 110,576 for all of South Georgia.  This hasn’t always been the case.  As recently as 1990, Gwinnett County and South Georgia were basically tied in this category: 65,281 for Gwinnett and 63,073 for South Georgia.
  • Sends more students to University System of Georgia colleges than all of South Georgia. This is also a recent development.  A decade ago South Georgia still sent significantly more kids to college than Gwinnett County – 5,117 versus 3,762.  But by 2011 they were basically tied.  South Georgia sent 5,498 kids to college while Gwinnett County sent 5,493, according to University System of Georgia data.  Since then the gap has widened steadily, and in 2015 Gwinnett County sent 1,100 more freshmen to University System colleges than South Georgia.
  • Is substantially healthier than South Georgia. Using premature death rates as a proxy for health status, Gwinnett County is about twice as healthy as South Georgia.  The 2015 YPLL 75 rate for the 56-county South Georgia region was 9,823.3; for Gwinnett County, it was 5,163.2 (with YPLL 75 rates, the lower the number, the better).   In this category, South Georgia has actually gained a little ground over the past 20 years.  It’s improved about 5.4 percent over that period while Gwinnett County has been essentially flat.  But South Georgia’s numbers in this category are abysmal while Gwinnett County’s are pretty close to optimal, especially for a county as large and diverse as it is.  For 2015, Gwinnett County’s YPLL 75 rate was the fifth best in the state, and it has consistently been in the top tier of counties in this category.
  • Produces about half as many criminals as South Georgia.   In 2015, according to Georgia Department of Corrections data, South Georgia sent more than twice as many people to prison than Gwinnett County did: 2,403 for South Georgia versus 1,049 for Gwinnett.  The picture for new probationers is similar: 5,956 for South Georgia versus 2,630 for Gwinnett County.

In a future post, we’ll take a look at political and cultural trends in Gwinnett County and South Georgia.

Copyright (c) Trouble in God’s Country 2016