Metro Atlanta by the numbers
The Atlanta metropolitan statistical area (MSA) of 28 counties is home to roughly 5.3 million people, according to the 2010 Census. It is the seventh largest region nationally. Atlanta's population grew by 24 percent over the past decade, due largely to an increase in the minority population. The metro Atlanta region is home to roughly 148,000 businesses and is ranked 10th largest in gross domestic product (GDP) nationally and 38th in global gross GDP, according to the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

The metro Atlanta region can be an attractive home for individuals and businesses alike, but the economic prosperity of the region is not evenly distributed. There also appears to be disparate treatment and disenfranchisement of certain segments of the population, particularly minorities and low- and moderate-income people and communities.

Depending on the data source used, median family income and wealth has decreased in Georgia and in the metro Atlanta area despite some positive economic indicators. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute estimates that Georgians' incomes are at 1990 levels when adjusted for inflation; the median family income in Atlanta has decreased from $67,829 in 2010 to $66,300 in 2013, according to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council's Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data. Further, the 2010 Metro Atlanta Chamber estimates the 2010 median household income at an even lower $53,182.

The Metro Atlanta Equity Atlas is a data mapping tool that provides relevant and timely data on eight key topics that are important to community residents and stakeholders in the metro Atlanta area.

Another report from the Brookings Institution states that suburban poverty increased in the metro Atlanta area from 2.7 percent in 2000 to 4.9 percent in 2008. A recent Harvard initiative, the Equality of Opportunity Project, found that Atlanta is one of the worst urban regions in the country in terms of children living in poverty moving into the middle class. Fifty metro areas were considered and Atlanta ranked 48th. Furthermore, the imbalance of housing located near job centers in metro Atlanta creates a growing concern about housing costs burden. In fact, a Center for Housing Policy report, Losing Ground, finds that housing and transportation costs grew 2.72 percent faster than income in the metro Atlanta area.

Financial stability and quality of life for all communities is a key area of concern for the Atlanta Fed's community and economic development (CED) group, which has a particular focus on low- and moderate-income communities. The CED has found similar submarket economic variances in our Community Indicators work, in which we analyze select data sets to observe changes that indicate recovery, decline, or stability for at-risk populations and those who are more sensitive to changes in economic and financial conditions.

Successful community collaboration
The Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE), formerly known as Equity Atlanta, is a collaboration of key regional economic development professionals. It represents a diverse group of organizations whose mission is to push for policies and actions that promote equity and shared prosperity in the metro Atlanta area.

During the financial crisis, it became apparent that the myriad of data information systems in the metro area were fragmented and needed to become more integrated for practitioners, policymakers, elected officials, researchers, and the community at large to leverage the limited financial resources available. PSE served as a convener of the Metro Atlanta Equity Atlas (MAEA) committee—a stakeholder group of researchers, academicians, philanthropists, intermediaries, and social service providers—formed to understand data needs and gaps in the region. The group planned to develop an online data mapping tool to help inform policymakers, elected officials, philanthropists, and other community stakeholders of the economic inequities occurring in the region. The committee met with the developers of similar equity atlas tools in Portland and Denver to learn more about the design and resources needed to develop such a tool; implemented a capital campaign to fund the tool's development; developed a network of researchers and data practitioners; hosted community engagement sessions to receive input from community residents; and hired a consultant to manage the development process.  

Partners serving on the MAEA committee included the Annie E. Casey Atlanta Civic Site, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DeKalb County Board of Health, Emory University Office of University-Community Partnerships, Emory University Initiative for Race and Difference, Enterprise Community Partners, the Atlanta Fed, the Georgia Department of Public Health, Georgia Tech Community Affairs Office, Georgia Stand-Up, GSTAND, the Latin American Association, Mercer University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Neighborhood Nexus, Nexus Research Group, and the Center for Working Families Inc.

Investments from NeighborWorks America Southern District, Georgia Department of Public Health, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners, Mercer University, the Ford Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Southern Education Foundation, Emory University Center for Community Partnerships, and Cox Enterprises were leveraged and played a critical role in developing and launching the MAEA tool.

Lessons learned
After several years of development, the Metro Atlanta Equity Atlas, the first equity mapping and storytelling tool of its kind in the Southeast, was officially launched last November.

While the MAEA committee had explored other equity atlas tools that helped to influence the design, it was the community conversations that PSE hosted that helped determine which indicators were most important. That input helped the committee design a tool that reflects the economic and social barriers most pressing in the Atlanta area: demographics, economic development, education, environment, health, housing, public safety, and transportation.

Collaboration, strategic use of data, and place matter
As a result of the research and data analysis generated, a regional report was produced highlighting the most significant findings. Case studies featured locally developed efforts to address some of the most urgent community issues, policy implications, and future research recommendations. The report features a diverse group of recognized industry leaders sharing their knowledge and analysis of this timely data.

A few examples of the most significant findings: almost one in four children in the region live below the federal poverty rate; the Georgia pre-K programs are heavily concentrated in the most densely populated counties and less concentrated in the outer-ring suburb counties, in some cases counties at or above 16 percent poverty rates; the majority of students eligible for the HOPE scholarship reside in counties with middle- and higher-income families who are less likely to need financial assistance for higher education; and two neighboring counties (Fayette and Spalding) share very similar physical environment characteristics yet experience vastly different social and economic conditions.

Get the full report and use the MAEA mapping tool to browse some 200 maps.

By Sibyl Slade, former Atlanta Fed regional community developer manager based in Atlanta


Additional Federal Reserve Resources

"Community Investments Volume 22, Issue 1: Understanding How Place Matters for Kids." Popkin, Susan J., Gregory Acs, and Robin Smith, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Spring 2010.

"How Place Matters Is Subject of New Book." Cascade 77, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Spring/Summer 2011.

"Connecting Communities: Strategic Data Use for Transforming Community Investments." March 21, 2012. Federal Reserve System.