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Community meeting addresses Halls demographic challenges
Experts: Solutions needed to match workforce to available jobs
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Future demographic changes in Hall County should not be ignored or left unaccounted for when crafting today’s policies, experts told community leaders at a meeting Tuesday morning.

The Diversity Committee of Vision 2030 organized the event at the Gainesville Civic Center. It was sponsored by local private and public organizations.

The presentation, titled “Building the Best Workforce for Hall County: The Impact of Past, Present & Future Demographics,” was held with the goal of explaining county demographic changes and projections to the attending 150 or so business, education and government leaders.

“It’s important that we continue to ask ourselves, ‘Are we ready? Are we embracing our future?’” Hall County School Superintendent Will Schofield asked in his introduction of Matt Hauer, a demographer with the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute.

Georgia is growing at different rates, Hauer said. Only six counties account for two-thirds of the state’s population growth since 2010.

“The world is changing, Georgia is changing,” he said. “Hall County is right within that change. Hall County was amongst those who underwent the most rapid change.”

The recession initiated a slow growth period that Hall has weathered well, he said, yet that is expected to change.

Studies predict a booming and diverse county population of 280,000 by 2030. Growth was and will continue to be “wildly divergent” between racial and ethnic populations, Hauer said.

“In 1980, Hall was overwhelmingly white and black, and less than 0.5 percent other. Now Hispanic accounts for more than one-fourth of the population,” Hauer said, citing census figures. “The diversification has been very dramatic, and honestly, it’s going to continue.”

In 2030, Hispanics are expected to make up almost a third of Hall’s population, based on net migration and fertility rates among child-bearing women of different races.

Looking at aggregate incomes, in 2010 nonwhites in the county accounted for $700 million. That number is expected to double to $1.4 billion in 2030, Hauer said.

Hauer next went over job growth predictions, and the problem of lagging education.

“We know that educational attainment is tied with so many socioeconomic outcomes,” he said.

The future workforce will “overwhelmingly require some kind of postsecondary credential,” he said, with technical degrees outpacing the need for liberal arts degrees.

That boom in skilled jobs leaves the state barreling toward a gap in educated Georgians to fill them, with estimates ranging from a quarter to three-quarter of a million jobs unfilled.

“That’s a huge amount of economic power that will not be harnessed,” Hauer said. “We have to home-grow our talent; we have to improve educational outcomes. If we look at graduation rates, there’s no way we’d be able to fill those jobs.”

Only about 60 percent of Hispanic and black students graduate high school, a figure Hauer deemed “unsustainable” for the job future.

Aging is another prominent demographic trend, Hauer said.

“I think one of the very important factors in the next 20 years is going to be our aging population,” he said. “There is going to be tremendous growth with our 65 and older population — a state, national, and in some cases, international trend.”

More than 40 percent of the Hispanic population is uninsured, compared to about 18 percent of the white population and 25 percent of the black population. Hauer said it was too early to know if the Affordable Care Act would close that gap.

Hauer also noted findings from a study that gave the county an overall high health rank, but rated it poorly for “physical environment.”

“People have a hard time getting to services,” he cited as accounting for the low rank. “Looking at use of Red Rabbit (buses), using that for some sort of a medical benefit directly correlates to health outcomes.”

Leaders showed a readiness to embrace the challenges during a subsequent question and answer session.

Schofield made an impassioned appeal to “radicalize” K-12 education, and “prepare kids for the jobs that will be available in 2020.”

Vision 2030 Diversity Chairman Enrique Montiel stressed that the future job gap reflects an ongoing problem.

“2020 is only seven years down the road — the gap is not coming, the gap is ongoing,” Montiel said. “It’s a big scarcity of jobs, and this is our biggest potential to push the county for.”

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merianne Dyer urged a compassionate look at the effects of “barriers in policy” for immigrants’ education.

“A lot of those students came here when they were 2, 3 years old, and they cannot go to college,” Dyer said, citing the barring of in-state tuition for residents living illegally in the state. “You must consider that as a motivation factor to graduating, if the state wants to slam the door on their work potential.”

Montiel stressed putting words to action.

“Finding these statistics interesting is not going to do anything; the important thing is you incorporate them in your everyday work,” he said. “This is just the very beginning — a little baby step.”