Cooper: Numbers offer educational cheer

Cooper: Numbers offer educational cheer

December 23rd, 2018 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

It's two days before Christmas, time for a little holiday cheer. It's time to dwell for the moment — longer if you dare — on how well we have it here in our little corner of Tennessee.

Thanks to recent information from The Sycamore Institute, based on the United States Census Bureau's 2013-2017 American Community Survey five-year estimates, we can put our relative fortune into perspective. And when we say in perspective, we mean in comparison to the other 94 Volunteer State counties.

After all, when it comes to categories such as median household income and educational attainment, we'd like them to be higher for everyone. And when it concerns the number of people living in poverty and the number of Tennesseans without health insurance, we'd like them to be lower for everyone.

The median income of Hamilton County residents — where half are above and half are below — is $50,273, above the statewide median of $48,708. The $50,000 mark is one only 16 other counties have crossed. Though we're nowhere near the state's richest county, Williamson, with a median household income of $103,543, we are wealthier than 78 other counties in the state. Hancock County, in rural Northeast Tennessee on the Kentucky border, has the lowest household income ($29,619).

Though 14.5 percent of Hamilton County residents live in poverty, only 17 counties have a lower rate than Hamilton, which also is below the state median of 16.7 percent. The state ranges from 4.6 percent living in poverty in Williamson County, a bedroom community of Nashville, to 29.9 percent in Lake County, a rural county in Northwest Tennessee on the Missouri border.

Williamson also tops the lists of fewest children (5.2 percent) and fewest seniors (3.8 percent) living in poverty. Lake County has the most children living in poverty (47.3 percent), and Clay County in Upper Middle Tennessee on the Kentucky border has the most seniors living in poverty (21.4 percent).

Not surprisingly, as is typical with larger counties, Hamilton doesn't fare as well in either category, finishing behind 23 counties for fewest children living in poverty (21.4 percent, below the state median of 24.3 percent) and behind 27 counties for fewest seniors living in poverty (9 percent, also below the state median of 9.5 percent).

In educational attainment, Hamilton County is in a tie for 10th place in the state for residents with at least a high school diploma (88.7 percent), fifth for residents with at least an associate's degree in college (38.7 percent, higher than the state median of 33.1 percent) and sixth for residents with at least a bachelor's degree in college (30.5 percent, higher than the state median of 26.1 percent).

Williamson County leads the state in all three categories, while Bledsoe and Grundy counties in Southeast Tennessee have the smallest percentage with at least a high school diploma (73.2 percent), Morgan County on the Cumberland Plateau has the smallest percentage with an associate's degree (14.2 percent) and Pickett County in Upper Middle Tennessee on the Kentucky border has the smallest percentage with at least a bachelor's degree (7 percent).

About individuals without health insurance, Hamilton County is in a four-way tie for 21st best in the state (9.5 percent, better than the statewide median of 10.9 percent). For individuals earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level without health insurance, Hamilton is in the lower half of counties in the state. Indeed, only 35 counties have more residents without insurance than Hamilton's 19.2 percentage, which still betters the statewide median of 19.7 percent. The counties range from Lawrence in Lower Middle Tennessee on the Alabama border with 30.9 percent of people earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level without health insurance to Lake County with only 11.7 people earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level without health insurance.

Fortunately, where children without insurance are concerned, the county fares a little better. Hamilton is in a five-way tie for 26th best in the state (3.4 percent), well below the statewide median of 4.8 percent. Henderson County, northeast of Jackson, with only 0.9 percent of children uninsured, is best in the state, and Perry County, just two counties east of Henderson County, is worst with 14.7 percent of children uninsured.

According to the data, on average, more densely populated counties in Tennessee have higher incomes, less poverty and lower uninsured rates. That is true for Hamilton County and Knox County (Knoxville) but not true for Davidson (Nashville) and Shelby (Memphis) counties, which have higher than the state poverty rate medians.

For Hamilton County residents, the maxim of education leading to a good job both seems to be true and should be the catalyst for the still too many people who live in poverty. That's been the aim of both the Chattanooga 2.0 movement over the last several years and Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnston.

It also follows that where there is more educational attainment and less poverty, there are lower uninsured rates. It's not information anyone's been hiding, and it's not rocket science. But it could be the carrot-on-a-stick for county residents who want to see their way to even more holiday cheer and a better 2019.

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