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Big picture of state's demographic shifts: Not a pretty picture for schools

At a recent education forum , Mike Carnathan, a researcher with the Atlanta Regional Commission, showed a startling series of slides that confirmed the suburbanization of poverty in Georgia.

The increasing and concentrated poverty portends challenges for many Georgia schools.

The ARC data reiterates a fact teachers know well: Family income remains one of strongest predictors of educational success. Middle-class kids come to school healthier and with stronger educational foundations than lower income peers.

Yet, many of the children who will be flowing into Georgia schools over the next 25 years -- the state will see a big rise in younger residents  -- will be poor. And an increasing percentage of them will come from homes where English is not the primary language, adding to the education hurdles.

Carnathan shared some big picture data trends at a recent forum by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education:

•Georgia is growing more diverse. But it is also growing poorer.

•The state’s job market is recovering; income is not. And it’s not clear why. Carnathan said it may be Georgia employers can get away with paying less. But, otherwise, he said, “Nobody has a good answer.”

•Metropolitan Atlanta has been outperforming the rest of nation in job growth for about two years now. However, Georgia’s per capita income is lower today than it was in 2000. “The nation went through the great recession and it's recovered. Georgia just isn’t there yet...Yes, we are growing a lot, but we are also growing poor,” said Carnathan.

•Georgia is a fast growing state, growing twice as fast as the nation as a whole since 1990. In that time, Georgia has ranked 4th in new residents, behind Texas, California and Florida.

•Among metropolitan areas, metro Atlanta ranked 7th in growth since 2010; this is after a decade where Atlanta was one of three metropolitan areas adding a million more residents. Most of the growth is occurring in the second ring suburbs.

•As baby boomers age, there will be many more jobs in the healthcare sector.

•New economy jobs are hot, but these jobs overwhelmingly require at least a bachelor’s degree.

•However, some old economy jobs are hot, too. If we can align training tracks with these jobs, there are opportunities for Georgians who don’t have a college degree.

•Top jobs in Georgia based on postings by employers: Truck drivers is No. 1. The second is software developer followed by registered nurse, retail sales, sales rep, supervisor, and computer system analyst.

•When you look at the full list of posted jobs over the past year, 63 percent require at least a bachelor’s degree. By 2040, health care will be the dominant sector.

•Looking at the state’s adults now, only 28 percent now have a degree.

Where are kids being educated to higher standards so they are on track for a degree?

The ARC maps show achievement benchmarks --  strong performance in third grade reading and top high school graduation rates – correlate with household wealth.

The population growth in Georgia will occur in the metro areas around Atlanta, Chattanooga Columbus, Augusta, and Savannah. "The metropolitan areas are going to capture the majority of the population and the majority of the jobs. That is the nature of the game; it is a metropolitan world now,” said Carnathan.

Georgia is younger than the rest of the nation, having a slightly higher percentage of school-age children and slightly fewer older adults. Metro Atlanta also has more younger residents than the rest of the southeast.

In 1990, metro Atlanta was full of baby boomers.Today, there are more millennials than baby boomers in metro Atlanta. (1.55 million millennials to 1.25 million boomers.)

Younger Georgians are more diverse. In metro Atlanta, 60 percent of the residents 14 and under are nonwhite, compared to 30 percent of the 70 and older group.

The metro is showing a rise in young children “who will be running this place in 2040,” said Carnathan.

A lot of those young children can be found in suburban Atlanta areas with great diversity, including Gwinnett and Hall counties.

Metro Atlanta is becoming a minority majority population. Hispanic growth is occurring in the metro suburbs. When you overlay race and age, you find high numbers of children in the burgeoning Hispanic pockets in such areas as Marietta, Canton, Norcross, Buford Highway and Gainesville.

Schools reflect these new demographic realities. In the year 2000, nine of 14 school systems in metro Atlanta had majority white populations.

“Fast forward to 2014, now only five do. This is just in 14 years. This isn’t even a generation. That is how fast things are happening in our school systems,” said Carnathan.

Consider Rockdale County, he said. In 2000, Rockdale public schools were 68 percent white. Today, they are 17 percent.

“This is the pace of change our school systems are having to deal with, and it’s dizzying,” he said.

“In 1990, we are a bi-ethnic place -- majority white, black, not much else," said Carnathan. "By 2040, we are going to have a plurality of races. It’s going to be a marble cake. It’s going to have equal numbers of all races.”

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.