In fact, when it comes to ratings there’s a definite pattern for Georgia although most miss it because various rankings get dribbled out one at a time and in isolation instead of being lumped together to try to create a portrait of the whole.
It is only when it comes to best-of football rankings and worst-of ratings on things that nobody wants to lead that Georgia seems always to be near to the top. The most recent: third worst in high-school graduations with only two out of three students making it. And this in an economy where the constant message is that a high-school education is no longer enough to earn to good living.
Whether it is foreclosures or bankruptcies or unemployment, unwed pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases — pretty much anything negative — the state consistently seems to be way up there. It’s hard to imagine that the positive ranking/image of the UGA Bulldogs and Atlanta Falcons erase the impression that must be left nationally.
Frankly, in some respects it would seem that Greater Rome is a veritable bright spot (see adjoining editorial) without which Georgia might actually sink to the very bottom of the national barrel. However, the wish should be that Georgia’s leaders finally get around to figuring out some way to keep from sinking and start heading back up. Despite all that has plainly been going bad of late, Georgia is a nice place to live. One just shouldn’t have to spend so much time apologizing for the facts.
Perhaps a way to start is by having somebody throw a pail of cold water into all our faces to wake the public to reality. That is pretty much what the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute did the other day with its “State of Working Georgia 2012” report.
THIS BEING a state that leans so far to the right that its shoulder scrapes the ground when it walks, the institute is normally described as “left-leaning”” which means it is probably middle-of-the-road. What it always has been, no matter who holds power, is brutally honest about saying stuff that contradicts what the political types say when patting themselves on the back.
The institute took a bunch of numbers usually seen separately and sort of rolled them out as one. To capsulize the picture thus drawn:
The typical Georgia household now has purchasing power that has dropped to what it had in about 1990, thus losing 20 years of economic progress. The state’s poverty rate by federal standards ($22,891 a year for a family of four) is now the highest in 30 years. Last year alone (2011) the median (exact middle) household income fell by more than $2,500. The Great Recession wiped out 8 percent (338,500) of all jobs in the state. Georgians with jobs and of ages 25-54 (the heart of the workforce) was down to 73 percent, the lowest since 1979.
Guess all those new residents must be coming to Georgia to take advantage of the “Go Fish” program. Either that or they just ran out of gas and the money to pay for more while trying to make it to the mirage of greener pastures in Alabama and Mississippi.
And all this cold water came without the ice cubes associated with chilling numbers involving too many aspects of educational and societal performance.
NOR DID the institute suggest what left-leaners are supposed to do, like raising specific taxes. Perhaps that is implied as it is impossible to make omelets without breaking eggs. Even a soft-boiled approach requires knocking off the top to get to what’s inside.
What the institute conclusion did emphasize is that things simply can’t keep going on the way they have and that the state’s elected leadership has to do more that cut budgets and pray for rain, as it does with Atlanta’s water problems.
The institute report concludes by asking “Where does Georgia go from here?”— meaning close to rock bottom among the states. Its answer is worth repeating, if only because it tends to echo themes that often have appeared on this page in the past.
“What Georgia truly needs is a more balanced approach to address these economic challenges. A vibrant economy that works for everyone depends not only on a strong private sector, but also on equally strong public investments that lay the foundation for future growth.
“Sustained commitments to education and job training, for example, enhance opportunities and bolster family incomes. Investments in transportation and public safety heighten quality of life and make Georgia an attractive place to live, work, and invest. Maintaining an adequate safety net helps those in rough times get back on their feet, and strengthening health coverage protects workers from going bankrupt simply because they get sick.
“Georgia has already proven this mantra in the past. Ambitious investments in roads and airports made Georgia a regional and even global hub for commerce and trade. The creation of the HOPE Scholarship gave thousands of Georgians access to higher education, which is increasingly the primary path to the middle class. Expansion of public pre-K has allowed countless Georgians to better balance work and family while giving their children a stronger shot at success. The state’s commitment to QuickStart has proven a model for job-training programs nationwide.
“TODAY THOUGH, policymakers have mostly abandoned what worked in the past. Deep budget cuts over the last several years have helped to undermine the well-being of average Georgians, and they continue to compromise the state’s path to economic recovery. Georgia today is basically running on fumes from investments made by prior generations. To get back where we need to be, that will have to change — state leaders will have to find the political will that is needed to ensure our current generation pulls it weight.
“By coupling strategic investments in the future (e.g. education, transportation) with the revenue needed to pay for them, Georgia will have a chance of building an economy that works for everyone — an economy that strengthens working people, promotes long-term prosperity, and provides low- and middle-income families the opportunities for advancement they deserve.”
Well said. Worth repeating. Important to call to the attention of our state and hometown legislators as they prepare to start a new General Assembly session in January. At that time they can make all this better ... or worse.
Although it is difficult to believe that much worse is possible.