We are accustomed to thinking of Georgia, and in particular metro Atlanta, as a magnet for refugees from New England and the Rust Belt. Our region has grown so fast for so long that this fact is taken for granted and even, by some people, lamented.
We usually think of this growth in terms of people: For example, the population of what’s now considered metro Atlanta has nearly quadrupled in the past half-century. But what about the money that came with all those people? And what if the flood of people and their money slowed substantially?
These are the kind of questions raised by a new book, “How Money Walks.” The author, Travis H. Brown, analyzed IRS data from 1995 through 2010 to see how much income shifted as Americans moved from state to state — and found the total for those years surpassed $2 trillion nationwide.
Georgia, as you might expect from the growth we’ve experienced, fared quite well overall. By 2010, our gain of adjusted gross income hit an annual total of $12.4 billion. That was good for seventh in the nation.
Of that total, $9 billion (73 percent) went to the 28-county Atlanta metropolitan statistical area. Which stands to reason, given that two of every three transplants in Georgia live in our region.
But that’s where this tale stops sounding familiar.
Brown also published county-level IRS data for income movement on a website, HowMoneyWalks.com. The shifts within Georgia will almost certainly surprise you.
At the core of our 28-county region are 10 counties. They’re the counties put together for last summer’s T-SPLOST referendum: Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale.
Between 2000 and 2010, 45 percent of the state’s population growth occurred in those 10 counties. But over the slightly longer period Brown studied, 1995-2010, just 1 percent of the inbound income wound up in them.
Think about that: almost half the state’s population growth but, on net, hardly any of its inbound income growth.
Now think about this: The other 18 counties that make up metro Atlanta — ranging from Pickens in the north to Lamar in the south, Carroll in the west to Walton in the east — welcomed just 23 percent of the state’s newcomers. But they got an astounding 71 percent of income on the move.
Now, there are other ways for incomes to grow within a given geographic area. But, as Brown told me in a telephone interview, “When you see those two things out of sync, you need to ask what’s going on in the community.”
Let’s be more specific. People departing Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton took $4.7 billion in annual income with them. Almost all of it went to nearby counties.
The biggest gainers, meanwhile, form a suburban-exurban ring outside I-285. Going due north of Atlanta and moving clockwise, the top five are: Cherokee ($2 billion), Forsyth ($3.3 billion), Henry ($1.5 billion), Coweta ($935 million) and Paulding ($1 billion). The total for those five alone: about $8.7 billion.
We see the geographic shift in political power play out on the map when legislative seats are reapportioned. Power in the statehouse has definitely grown around Atlanta’s exurban ring.
But this tremendous shift of wealth is less understood. In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at what it means.