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Posted: February 18, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Morgan: Image of Georgia a state of mind

The Georgia immortalized by Ray Charles' matchless rendition of "Georgia on My Mind" is hard to quantify.

There's no one snapshot or source to tell us everything we may want to know about this place we call home. I even checked with AJC columnist Jay Bookman who told me he knows of nowhere to get all the facts and figures that could be used to paint a picture of Georgia.

It would seem to be a job for someone.

We each carry our own mental pictures, descriptions and memories of this state, particularly if we grew up here.

The millions who continue to move here have different pictures and expectations of what they will find.

Our perceptions may be based in fact or in our imagination.

To many people, Georgia will always be the Georgia written about in "Gone with the Wind," and some say that's a blessing and a curse.

To others, Georgia is a burgeoning high tech and bio-medical center of activity.

Others revel in the Georgia of sun-baked midstate flatlands, the old-growth forests of the Appalachian mountains or the sands melting into the Atlantic Ocean.

Georgia can be either a place of opportunity or a dead-end destination.

For a couple of months, I've gleaned from newspapers and the Internet facts and state rankings that help provide a quantifiable picture of Georgia.

As is so often the case, only the most troubling numbers show up; therefore, the picture that emerges isn't a complete or even balanced portrait. I'm sure there's something we do well, but it's hard to find. Maybe that's the subject of a future column.

We're well aware of Georgia's unemployment standings, especially in Newton County, where our unemployment numbers - over 11 percent - exceed the state's at over 10 percent, putting us among the nation's top 10 highest.

Many say those figures belie the real numbers, thought to be as high as 15-17 percent by some observers.

From 2000 to 2008, we were last in the country in per capita income growth, and in 2008 our per capita income at 85.5 percent of the national average was less than in 1984, according to Georgia State University's Fiscal Research Center.

In January, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation reported that Georgia's 38,000 high school dropouts from the class of 2007 will cost taxpayers $4.8 billion over their lifetimes due to costs associated with incarceration, Medicaid and other government programs.

Native Georgians are twice as likely to leave school without a diploma than those students who move to Georgia.

While the graduation rate is up, it stands at 65 percent.

High school dropouts earn $7,200 less a year than graduates and have much higher rates of imprisonment, addiction, out-of-wedlock births and dependence on government programs.

Health-wise, more than one in three children in Georgia between 10 and 17 are overweight or obese, according to the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health, the second highest rate of childhood obesity in the U.S.

Twenty percent of Georgians live in poverty; 17 percent have no health insurance and 19 percent are on Medicaid. Teen death and infant mortality rates exceed the national average.

A.D. Frazier, chairman of the special tax reform commission, reported recently that Georgia is 45th in the nation in state taxes per capita and our state and local business taxes as a percentage of the state's Gross Domestic Product are the 10th lowest in the country, citing the Council on State Taxation.

For 2010, Georgia had the sixth-worst foreclosure rate in the country and the second worst decrease in building permits, down over 82 percent.

We also have the highest number of troubled and closed banks in the U.S.

Our state punishes more of its citizens than any other state in the country, with one of every 13 adults in prison or on parole or probation, double the national average.

We spend more than $1 billion a year to house 60,000 inmates.

Longer sentences since 1985 have fueled unprecedented growth in our corrections budget.

When it comes to financial distress, we know all about it in Newton County, having been ranked among the 10 most distressed areas in the country.

At the end of 2010, Georgia was the eighth-worst in consumer financial distress in the U.S. due to high unemployment and spiraling foreclosures.

But here's at least one stand-out area: When Georgia Economic Development Commissioner Chris Cummiskey said, "Georgia is the second-fastest growing state for international tourists," he was right, according to an analysis.

It helps to have Hartsfield-Jackson as an air travel center.

 

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.

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