By Dan Pool
I admit a tendency to follow click-bait e-mails such as one last week about the “happiest cities in America,” from WalletHub.
But it’s hard to put much trust in the findings. Are the people in Fremont, California really the most cheerful in this nation? More eyebrow raising, what’s up with two North Dakota cities (Bismark, Fargo) being second and third? Maybe there is more going on in North Dakota than you would believe. For the record, the first Georgia city on the list was Atlanta, way down at 90.
After perusing the list, I wanted to dig into the methodology and see where Jasper might stack up. Not that Jasper is large enough to make a study of cities but as a yardstick, where might we have ranked?
The indices used are not particularly easy to follow. They boil down to three categories, according to WalletHub’s press release, (1.) emotional well-being, (2.) income & employment and (3.) community environment. They used 31 different indicators, everything from suicide rate (clearly a sign a town is not happy) to the amount of leisure time residents have.
As someone who covers the comings and goings in Jasper, with input from the rest of the newspaper staff, here’s a very subjective view of how Jasper would rank as a happy place.
Emotional & Physical Well Being:
Life Satisfaction – Hard to see how anyone can gauge this but we would point to the numerous civic and church groups here that jump to help with everything from distributing food to the poor to coaching youth in sports. Clearly this is not proof that everyone is satisfied in their daily endeavours, but does show people are able to find some purpose for living here. So high marks.
Sports participation rate – This is where we take one on the chin. Other than golf and a very small group of tennis and pickle-ball players, some horse groups and our mountain bike trails, there’s not much here for adults to do. Plenty of civic clubs, but few activity-based groups. Low score.
Opioid use – From what we report with our police stories, painkillers and meth remain a problem here. Not to the extent of some urban areas, but clearly there’s work to be done on drug addiction.
Income and Employment:
We’re confident the numbers on paper don’t capture conditions on Pickens County ground. This county leads the region in income level (see story from Jan. 14th edition), but still has a high rate of children on free and reduced lunches (46 percent on free and reduced meals currently, but that number is significantly lower than normal as many applications were not completed since schools were not charging for meals this year). Our CARES food pantry serves 250 families a week.
With jobs, there are help wanted signs everywhere, but a common complaint is the young people move away as they can’t find the jobs they want. The disconnect is that while there are plenty of entry level jobs and some companies that offer really great pay and benefits, there are not many choices for a career-path here.
However, is a commute to the north metro area a particularly bad thing? During a panel discussion on employment, pre-COVID at Chattahoochee Tech, local HR directors described how commuting a county or two away was the new normal. So, while our community may be lacking local jobs, there are opportunities relatively close by.
We’d rank our economic factors as solid but not inspiring.
Community and Environment
Our parks here are lacking. By any standard from miles of walking trails to facilities offered, Pickens is last in north Georgia. We also are one of the few counties in the region with no national forest or state parks, no public lake or easily accessible river.
On the other hand, Jasper is a very safe, small town, easy to get around and friendly. We’d strongly caution with the growth wave rolling in that our local governments must safeguard this small town atmosphere or we’ll lose ground on our best feature and quickly.
Final opinion – We’d say the quality of life here is pretty good. How does B+ sound, based on our great small town environment with points deducted for lack of job choices and few public spaces, plus overall inactive adult lifestyle?