Rural Georgia, home to 17 percent of state’s residents, faces grueling hardshipsLike a European cathedral that's more a tourist attraction than a place of worship, Snellings Grocery in Pinehurst reminds of what used to be. The store is located in Dooly County, which has lost an estimated 6 percent of its population this decade, according to the Census. File/Credit: Brian Brown/vanishingsouthgeorgia.com
By David Pendered
The once-behemoth Rural Georgia is slumping to its knees. The region that once controlled the governor’s office, state House and Senate, and the highway department is bleeding jobs as health care is becoming scarce, according to accounts in two recent reports.
Taken together, the reports by Georgia State University and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce highlight the challenges facing policy makers. The needs of 1.7 million rural Georgians could be lost in the effort to serve the 8.5 million Georgians who are clustered in urban regions, mainly metro Atlanta.
Georgia State University’s Center for State and Local Finance issued a report this week that detailed a grim fiscal future for rural Georgia:
- Rural Georgia lost 6.9 percent of its jobs from 2007 to 2014; that compares to a loss of 0.3 percent in metro Atlanta, and a loss of 2.7 percent in hub cities;
- Rural Georgia has the lowest job growth relative to its population growth; jobs losses of 6.9 percent occurred during a population growth rate of 12.7 percent;
- Rural Georgia is defined as the 124 counties that aren’t in metro Atlanta or the 13 hub cities scattered across the state.
Lead author Peter Bluestone noted that metro Atlanta and the hub cities are recovering, though not in as rapid a pace as some would prefer. That’s not the case in rural Georgia.
“The Great Recession was an unkind kick for already struggling communities; now it is harder than it would have been to pull themselves back up,” Bluestone, a senior research associate at CSLF, said in a statement.
“Rural parts of the country are facing many hardships,” Bluestone said. “The recovery isn’t as fast as some would like in the urban areas, but we can see it coming. It’s not as clear for rural communities.”
Consider, for example, the quality of jobs lost and gained.
Jobs that pay $50,000 a year or more that were lost in sparsely populated rural Georgia accounted for 24 percent of the premium jobs lost statewide, according to GSU’s report. Rural Georgia also lost many mid-wage jobs, which pay from $35,000 to $50,000 a year; these job losses were in the manufacturing sector that was hammered during the Great Recession. These salaries provide a comfortable standard of living in their communities.
Now consider the replacement jobs that have been created since the end of the Great Recession. In urban areas, ousted workers made the shift to construction, social service industries and health care. That’s because 75 percent of these new jobs were created in the Atlanta region. Similar types of jobs that could serve as a landing pad for an ousted worker in rural Georgia simply hasn’t been created in those communities, according to the report.
In August, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce issued a white paper that portrays a grim case for rural health care. According to the report:
- Four rural hospitals have closed since 2013;
- Rural hospitals are scaling back services; this sets the stage for a vicious cycle of health care shortage because physicians won’t move to places with limited hospital privileges;
- Rural patients tend to utilize emergency rooms, where care is the most costly to provide.
The chamber’s report contained one reference specific to improving access to health care in a report titled, “Quality Healthcare Access Study.” In a section titled, “Improve Rural Access to Care,” the policy alternative reads:
- “Stabilize rural provider infrastructure and incentivize providers to practice in Health Shortage Areas.”
The chamber continued its focus on health care Thursday by hosting an event with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The 9th Regional Forum of the Health Means Business campaign focused on ways business can, “empower healthier individuals and communities through education employment, and increased income.”