The sound of sirens is regularly heard in neighborhoods throughout Albany. Most of us are aware crime has gotten worse in recent years, and statistically ¾ of the city’s residents and businesses have been victims of crime in the last decade.
Albany has, in recent years, been consistently ranked among the 100 Most Dangerous Cities in the U.S. This classification is based on the number of violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault) per 1,000 residents, and tells only half of the story. The rate of property crimes (burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, arson) in Albany is more than 3x the national average. The rate of 6,752 crimes for 100,000 residents in 2017 is among the most of any city nationwide.
National and state crime rates have actually declined significantly since 2003. Crime statistics for Albany have, contrary to this trend, increased during that same period. Albany was included in a recent article listing cities in which crime, contrary to the national trend, has increased in recent years. Indeed, that article confirms violent crime in Albany rose by a staggering 39.2% from 2011 to 2016.
Albany’s economy was struggling prior to closure of Cooper Tire’s plant here in Dougherty County. The city commission retained a consulting firm in 2010 to conduct a “Poverty Analysis” “to help in the city’s efforts to address poverty”. The 191-page report generated by that firm states 27% of Albany’s residents were living below the poverty level.
Community leaders did little to address this issue, though they were obligated to take note when national publications consistently identified Albany as one of the poorest cities in the United States. Elected officials and civic leaders predictably dismissed this unfavorable recognition as misleading and unreliable. This response was, unfortunately, consistent with a concerted effort by community leaders to avoid responsibility for failing to tackle the menace of pervasive poverty, as well as other challenges which impact living standards and quality of life.
The poverty rate has increased in the last ten years, and by 2018 33.2% of Albany’s population was living below the poverty line, “one of the highest poverty rates in the country”.
Lack Of Economic Opportunity
250 jobs were lost when Bob’s Candies closed in 2005, and 350 jobs were lost when Merck & Company shuttered its plant in Dougherty County the following year. The hammer blow to the local economy was the closure of the Cooper Tire & Rubber Company plant, which was announced in December 2008. Cooper Tire had 1,300 employees at the time of the announcement, and approximately 800 more workers were “in business because of the plant”. Cooper Tire’s impact on the region’s economy was an estimated $500 million per year.
Economists predicted it would take years for the local economy to recover from this loss. An article which appeared in a national magazine in 2015 concluded Albany never rebounded from the Great Recession (December 2007-June 2009). All metrics confirm this assessment.
Community leaders have boasted that the unemployment rate, which was 4.7% in June 2019, has not been this low in more than a generation. That statistic is somewhat misleading, as it disregards the fact that fewer individuals are employed today in the Albany metro area than were employed 10 years ago. Employment increased nationally by 6.1% from 2012 to 2017, whereas employment in Albany fell by 4% during that same period. Department of Labor records confirm 69,659 people were working in the local economy, and 7,816 people were actively looking for work, in June 2009, whereas in June 2019, 63,169 people were working in the local economy and 3,109 people were actively looking for work. Obviously, the outward migration includes a large number of people who relocated due to loss of employment or in pursuit of a better opportunity elsewhere. Unemployment figures include only those individuals who are actively seeking employment. This suggests some of those who were previously identified as unemployed are currently working sporadically for cash, in various “off-the-books” jobs.
Job creation must be a priority for local civic leaders, and any such efforts must begin with recognizing, and then addressing, obstacles to economic development. Local leaders have mechanically dismissed empirical evidence of these obstacles as “negative” and “not constructive”. Consequently, there is a desperate need for new leadership in Albany and Dougherty County.
The population of the Albany metropolitan area fell 3.9%, from 157,596 to 151,434, from 2010 to 2017, and the city’s population fell from 77,434 to 73,179. This is among the most alarming demographic trends, as births in Dougherty County continue to exceed deaths, meaning the loss of population is from outward migration.
The loss of high-paying jobs, due to plant closures, and the inability of community leaders to attract and retain new industry, is the primary factor behind the loss in population. The unemployment rate, in May 2011, for the Albany metro area, was an astounding 12.1%. Many former residents have obviously relocated since 2010 due to lack of economic opportunity. There are, of course, other motivations. Most of us have friends and possibly family, in their 60s or even 70s, who have moved elsewhere in recent years. These citizens relocate for any number of reasons, including an opportunity to be closer to children and grandchildren. The challenges facing Albany, and the perception that their quality of life would be better elsewhere, are undoubtedly considerations for these individuals.
What is the consequence of loss of population? The excess housing units reduce property values, and the local economy shrinks with fewer people in the labor force. Those who can find work generally are employed in jobs, such as those in the service sector, which typically pay a fraction of the wages earned prior to the closure of businesses where they previously worked.
 https://www.macrotrends.net/cities/us/ga/albany/crime-rate-statistics. (Tab – Property Crime).
 Id. Crime rates in Valdosta, consistent with state and national trends, fell between 2011 and 2015. Richards, Terry “Crime rates fall in South Georgia metro area” Valdosta Daily Times (Nov. 7, 2016).
 Stebbins, Samuel and Evan Comen “25 cities where crime is soaring” USA Today (Mar. 9, 2018).
 Zumbrum, Joshua “In Depth: America’s 10 Most Impoverished Cities” Forbes (Oct. 12, 2009) (Albany identified as one of the ten poorest cities in the United States, based upon data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey; factors considered “include per capita income, the percentage of the population earning less than half the poverty line, the percentage of food stamp recipients, the percentage of people under 65 receiving public healthcare and the unemployment rate”).
 More than 15% of households earned less than $10,000 last year, double the national figure, and more than in any other metro area in the country. Nearly 20% of owner-occupied homes in the area were worth less than $50,000 in 2013, also nearly double the national rate, and among the higher proportions in the nation.
Frohlich, Thomas E. and Alexander E.M. Hess “America’s richest and poorest cities” https://www.msn.com/ en-us/news/money/americas-richest-and-poorest-cities/ss-BB9t1uM#image=9 (Oct. 19, 2014).
 Clanton, Nancy “New ranking of worst cities to live includes 5 in Georgia” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Feb. 8, 2019).
 Barnello, Jana “Albany Cooper Tire plant to close” WFXL (Dec. 17, 2008).
 Humphreys, Jeffrey “Tough Times for Albany” Georgia Trend (May 1, 2009).
 Wright, Kai “What Recovery?” Harper’s (Aug. 2015). And for the predictable response, see Lewis, Terry “Albany officials dispute Harper Magazine’s account of city’s lack of economic progress” Albany Herald (Jul. 21, 2015).
 Stebbins, Samuel and Grant Suneson “These are the worst cities to live in America. Is yours one of them?” Clarion Ledger (Feb. 7, 2019).
 United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LAUMT13105000 0000006?amp%253bdata_tool=XGtable&output_view=data&include_graphs=true. These statistics confirm the local labor force has shrunk by 9.3% in the last decade.
 Stebbins, Samuel “These 25 cities are losing more residents than they are gaining as population declines” USA Today (Mar. 21, 2019).
 www.biggestuscities.com/city/albany-georgia. Lee County’s population grew from 28,298 in 2010 to 29,764 as of July 1, 2018. https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=PEP_2018_PEPAN NRES&prodType=table.
 Compare https://oasis.state.ga.us/trendingtool/index.html?redirectto=Births (between 1198 and 1537 from 2010-2017) with https://oasis.state.go.us/trendingtool/index.html?redirectto-Mortality (between 685 and 952 from 2010-2017).