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Monday, July 13, 2015

Sandersville sixth-'worst' place to live in Georgia?

Washington County Courthouse. Photo by flickr
user Jimmy Emerson DVM. Used under a
Creative Commons license. 
A writer for the site RoadSnacks.net says he's worked up a formula to calculate the worst places to live in Georgia with populations greater than 5,000, and Sandersville comes in at No. 6 on the list. (Coming in at No. 1 is my father's hometown of Swainsboro.)

Thomson is tied for No. 19 on the list with Forest Park. Warrenton isn't on the list at all, as it doesn't fit the 5,000-resident threshold.

Writer Nick Johnson writes that his rankings are based on stats including unemployment rates, median income levels, education spending and home values -- all things that many Middle Georgia and East Georgia towns are struggling with.

But he also includes population density in that formula -- "the lower, the worse," his piece says. Taking a look at the numbers in his spreadsheet and how he did the math, it looks like he just averaged the rankings of the five criteria, so population density is a fifth of the final score. So, the ranking is pretty much built-in with the assumption that lower population density -- in other words, being rural -- is a bad thing.

Pieces like this tend to rile up people, such as the econ development director in Vidalia, who posted an impassioned defense of the Sweet Onion Capital of the World as a comment on RoadSnacks' piece. We should note that the piece bears a disclaimer that it's opinion and not fact. And RoadSnacks has published similar "worst places to live" posts on several other states, not just Georgia.

The data in the underlying spreadsheet show the same thing those metrics have shown for most of my lifetime: That there is a lot of poverty in little towns in Georgia -- unemployment is high, income levels are low, the schools aren't as fancy, often because there's not much tax base. Yes, a lot of people in rural Georgia have it tough. But a lot of people live in small towns because they like living there, because they feel the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. (Example: Sandersville may be No. 6 on RoadSnacks' list, but it had a better crime rate ranking in the spreadsheet than Smyrna, which RoadSnacks says is one of the 20 "best" places to live.)

If you really want to see how people did this kind of number-crunching for real and came out with something meaningful, check out the New York Times' "Hardest Places to Live" interactive from last year. The NYT analysis took into account "education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity." Nearly all of Middle, East and South Georgia are colored in orange there -- the "doing worse" category.

(Note: This piece has been edited since it was originally published.)

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