Seriously, and most interesting to note and examine, this region looks absolutely nothing like the governmentally compiled numbers would seem to indicate. If those were to be believed — and they might be in the far corners of the nation totally unfamiliar with Floyd County — there have to block-long bread lines, evicted homeless by the hundreds sleeping beneath bridges, beggars lined up along downtown sidewalks and all that sort of thing.
Instead, there are new businesses popping up, even being built from the ground up or actively planned as others take over buildings once empty. Downtown is looking like someone sent it to a car detailer. The people one sees out and about, even if not shopping/spending as freely as in days of yore, tend to look normal — and normal hereabouts has long meant generally happy.
Let us grant that few of our neighbors are dancing on streets newly paved with gold and larger numbers are really struggling to keep their heads above water, but despite the doom-and-gloom rhetoric of a political campaign season Greater Rome is not way, way up there on the “almost everybody is miserable” index. Why, our local governments are even managing to soldier on in tight formation toward the future without asking for more taxes.
THAT’S THE REALITY of the scene around us and the result of many reasons and factors. Nonetheless, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the Rome metropolitan statistical area (MSA), which is made up of everything inside Floyd County borders, ranks as No. 333 for having the highest unemployment rate. There are 372 MSAs in the United States. That means, regarding having jobs available, some 332 major population concentrations are in better shape than Greater Rome and only 39 worse off.
One of those, by the way, is Dalton which managed over the last year to have both the nation’s worst overall and percentage job loss — it shed 4,600 jobs. Only 32 of those 372 MSAs lost more jobs in the past year than they gained. The national problem so much heard in politics is actually that job addition is not fast enough, not that more people, overall, are being handed pink slips.
Rome appears to join Dalton on that list as well, given the same set of data shows it losing 900 jobs in the past year (which included the moment that the state terminated 750 employees at now-closed Georgia Northwest Regional Hospital). Wait! This just in: Floyd County lost another 200 jobs in July.
Which, actually, is peanuts given that since 2005, when Greater Rome employment topped out at 43,500, that makes the job loss to date for this county, with its current laboring force of 37,500, stand at down 6,000 compared to “prosperity” — which even then involved an unemployment rate.
NOT THAT the Rome MSA jobless rate of 10.6 percent in June is really much “better” than that of Dalton/Whitfield with its 12.3 percent. More notably our fair city/county are in the center of that part of a Northwest Georgia region that is rather badly off … statistically. Chattooga County has a jobless rate of 11 percent; Gordon 10.9 percent; Bartow and Polk are tied at 9.4. Of adjoining areas the “best” is actually Cherokee County, Ala., very much in Rome’s “trade zone,” with 8.4 percent.
Additionally, in a set of U.S. Department of Labor statistics apparently not kept at the county level but only the state one, there’s also a separate tally known as “the underemployment rate.” That means all the folks who have given up looking for work for at least four weeks (and thus are not counted in the jobless rate which means actually actively looking) or are working part-time while wanting full-time employment.
Georgia’s is the seventh highest rate in the nation at 16.4 percent. Nevada is worst at 22.1 percent and the national average is 15.3 percent.
Pretty much everyone in Greater Rome knows somebody that’s in that particular statistic, including family members who may be in a service industry, particularly one involving food. A large number of those appear to have already attained college degrees.
IF ONE ADDS those of employment age who are jobless and seeking work (10.6 percent) to those who have given up or want more paid hours than they have (let’s assume 16.4 percent for Greater Rome although it could easily be higher) that means some 27 percent of the adult (but not retired) population is not fully able to contribute to the gross national product … and local, state, U.S. tax revenues. That is a lot — more than one out of every four.
So, why is this particularly hard-hit area not getting any special added attention at the state level, where all the “woe is us” aims to boost the Atlanta metro region? Why hasn’t Washington come up with a special stimulus program sending job-creation activity toward Rome and its neighbors? Why are local elected representatives so quiet in this regard?
But, most of all, why do things when one is out and about look so normal? Judging by the continuing traffic jams on Turner McCall/Shorter, most of those 6,000 who no longer have jobs are sticking around.
News reporting doesn’t get into such topics much. “News” is statistical reports compiled by government, what talking heads in authority are saying/doing, what the criminal element is up to with a dash of reporting on what people do when assembled in numbers outside their homes. Journalism is ill equipped to do what is actually sociology, although that doesn’t mean it won’t try from time to time.
HOWEVER, THAT would be yet another and even lengthier topic having to do with many things and not just the fact that the “boom town” state for jobs is South Dakota and Georgians own very little cold-weather gear. To some degree it can probably be summed up this way: Most residing in this area like it here, have deep roots with family clans and tight-knit church clans willing to provide a safety net stronger than the governmental one, and the cost-of-living is more affordable than in most of those other MSAs.
Additionally, in a lot of MSAs, particularly the population-heavy ones, the dominant attitude is not very neighborly, tending to be “Danger! Stranger!”
Nonetheless, the traditional “news” (and politicians) seem to ooze with negativity. That often seems to create a general public mood that is distorted. Maybe the chamber of commerce types tend to wear rose-colored glasses but that does not mean welder goggles are more appropriate.
All that’s being said here is that, looking around at what all can easily see, and not ignoring the aches and limps, this is not the “bottom of the barrel” region that, statistically speaking, seems to be coming through the loudest.