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Posts tagged ‘South Georgia’

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.

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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.

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

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

 

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

 

Georgia blacks make strong gains in premature death rates; rural white females losing ground

As we’ve noted in various previous posts, Georgia’s premature death rate (known formally as Years of Potential Life Lost before age 75, or YPLL 75) has been improving fairly steadily over the 20 years that the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) has been compiling pertinent data.[1]  Between 1994 and 2013, the state’s YPLL 75 rate improved from 9,195.6 to 7,104.7, a gain of 19.4 percent.  The national median, as reported the Robert W. Johnson Foundation in its latest County Health Rankings, was 7,681, so Georgia is doing a little better than the nation as a whole.

But, as we’ve noted in past posts, Georgia’s improvement has been far from even; we’ve focused in particular on regional differences and the dramatic gap in YPLL 75 performance between Metro Atlanta and the rest of the state.  Until now, however, we haven’t looked at racial or gender comparisons, and that produces a couple of interesting headlines.  One is that the vast majority of gains in premature death rates between 1994 and 2013 have been made in the black population.  The other is that rural white females are losing ground.  Read more

Forsyth County moves to the top of the 2015 TIGC Power Ratings

With the publication Wednesday of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2015 County Health Rankings, we can indeed report that, as expected, Forsyth County has slipped past perennial leader Oconee County and claimed 1st place in the 2015 Trouble in God’s Country Power Ratings. Read more

A look at obesity in the different parts of Georgia

August 1, 2012

Today, we’ll take a look at some fresh work we’re doing on obesity in Georgia.  Obesity itself isn’t necessarily a medical condition, but it often contributes to diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and some types of cancer – all of which obviously are serious medical conditions and very expensive to treat.

It’s not news, of course, that Georgia has an obesity problem.  According to United Health Foundation’s 2011 edition of America’s Health Rankings, 30.4 percent of adult Georgians are obese and we rank 38th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Another non-profit that tracks health status, the Trust for America’s Health, says we’re doing a little better.  In the 2011 edition of its “F as in Fat” report, TAH puts the adult obesity rate in Georgia at 28.1 percent.  It also uses a worst-to-best ranking system that puts us in 17th place nationally; on the best-to-worst scale used by America’s Health Rankings, we’d be 34th. Read more