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State of the South: Even More Local

State of the South: Even More Local

A few weeks back, MDC Senior Fellow Ferrel Guillory examined new OECD data in a North Star blog post titled “State of the South: Rank Education Globally, Act Locally.” The analysis showed the South as a region lags behind the U.S. average in educational attainment rate of 25-34 year olds, and well behind most developed countries (Virginia is the only Southern state that exceeded the national average). We decided to dig a little deeper and see what educational attainment looks like county-by-county in the South. (See the map below.) The results reveal significant disparities. Of the 1,318 Southern counties, only 76 have an educational attainment rate that exceeds the 43 percent U.S. benchmark of 25-34 year olds with at least a two-year degree. Unsurprisingly, the 2012 unemployment rate of those 76 counties was significantly lower than the U.S. average: 6.69 percent compared to 9 percent.

The take away? We can reflect all day about which came first, the jobs that required the educational training or the educational training that attracted the good jobs. But regardless of which side you land on, it’s hard to deny that since the start of the Great Recession, postsecondary attainment has proven an impressive hedge against unemployment.

Looking at the map below, the green of high levels of educational attainment is sprinkled all over the map. The question for the South, then, is how do you equitably move a region and its people from just a speckle to a sea of green?

(Click to view larger image.)