Tennessee’s prosperous rural counties: guess which ones

A new website that I really like, The Daily Yonder, has been following the work of Andrew Isserman, an economist at the University of Illinois who studies rural areas. A Daily Yonder article today focuses on rural America’s most prosperous counties, which are defined as counties “that have better housing, a more educated population, less poverty and more jobs than the national average.”

I tried to guess how many and which ones these would be in Tennessee. Out of 95 counties, I thought, we should have five above average, but which ones? Williamson County is the wealthiest one in Tennessee, but it isn’t rural. I guessed Greene County in East Tennessee and figured that any others would be within 30 miles of Nashville.

Wrong. Tennessee has just two “prosperous” counties: Giles and Humphreys. I drove cross Giles County last week, and it certainly looks prosperous. The larger question, however, is Why are these counties prosperous?

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Giles County Courthouse

The answer comes from an earlier Daily Yonder article quoting Andrew Isserman:

Mostly, “prosperous rural counties keep their kids in school,” Isserman wrote. Adults in prosperous places have more education than do adults in the nation as a whole, and so do their kids. In prosperous rural counties, 63 percent of young adult women (age 24-34) have some college, compared to 50 percent in the rest of rural America. And 53 percent of young men have some college, compared to 39 percent in all other rural counties.

“Prosperous rural places have more places for people to meet (restaurants, bowling lanes, country clubs) and more people attend churches that are engaged in their communities.”

Many of the attributes that attract visitors–good locally owned places to eat, fun things to do, and interesting places to see–are good for locals as well. It would be interesting to examine Giles County and Humphreys County in detail to see how they are so successful.

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