August 2007 Archives

The Economics of Town and Gown

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Readers of the Flagpole will recognize this post as an expanded snippet from a longer piece that ran in last week’s paper. It represents an attempt to expand Cobbloviate’s coverage of local affairs. Along those lines, local weather junkies might check out this site with the understanding that the readings originate from the old Bloviator’s backyard and thus may reflect a persistent and unusually high concentration of hot air.

Much, although perhaps still not enough, has been said about the economic disparities that lurk beneath the serene and appealing surface of this community where the percentage of people living in poverty is actually more than 40 percent higher than the state average but unemployment is roughly 20 percent below the statewide mean. Incongruous as it may seem, the “working poor” are often a sizable presence in college towns, where universities and other employers need little bait on the hooks they dangle into a captive pool of faculty and student spouses and an assortment of hangers-on addicted to the local lifestyle and ambience. Anyone who imagines that education-oriented university communities are insulated from the vulgar realities of supply and demand need only consider that, according to the last full accounting I can find, on average, only 22 of Georgia’s 159 counties pay their teachers less than Clarke County does. I doubt it will make local teachers feel any better, but they are hardly the only white-collar casualties of a local economy brimming with highly educated job-seekers. For example, paralegals and legal assistants in these parts also seem to be coming up more than $4000 shy of the state average.
Given the drag effect of large numbers of relatively low-paying university staff jobs and the relatively high concentration of private employment in the low end of the service sector, it’s hardly surprising that only in Valdosta are Georgia’s metropolitan area production workers likely to earn less than they do here. That said, at $12.04 per hour, a typical such local worker is positively in the chips compared to a local cashier making $7.57 per hour. Clearly, our need here is not so much more employment opportunities but better ones that will ultimately pull local wage scales up rather than hold them down. Unfortunately, however, such jobs are most likely to be found in manufacturing, and needless to say, are far from plentiful in these days of oversized executive salaries and downsized factory payrolls. This story suggests that we are looking at perhaps 1,700 new jobs next year, but the way I read “During the past three months, hiring was fastest in Athens in the sectors of professional and business services (300 jobs) and leisure and hospitality (310 jobs),” is that most of the folks who fill these new positions will be bringing home paychecks that look more like a cashier’s than production worker’s. In all likelihood, the same could be said of most places around this great land of ours, but I guess it doesn’t hurt for those of us who think that heaven might be a bit of a come-down compared to Athens to be reminded that the price of enjoying it is a lot steeper for some than for others.

Searching For Sleaze in Just the Right Place

Hardy Jackson had been one of my dearest friends for 35 years. To my knowledge, he is the only person who ever drank two pitchers of beer and then tried to play tennis wearing desert boots. The outcome of the match was predictable, of course, as was what came out of Hardy after about two games. Suffice it to say, the desert boots were beyond reclamation, even by Hardy's none-too-elevated standards. My old buddy writes some for the Anniston Star these days, and I am posting his most recent column here with total disregard for the niceties of copyright in order to illustrate just some of the reasons I love him. JC

Harvey H. Jackson: Searching for sleaze

"It ain't easy being sleazy" — Blues Club Motto

Every once in a while I need a dose of sleaze.

Not a big dose.

Just a little to remind me that there is another side of life and in it are experiences which, taken prudently, can enhance your understanding of the human condition.

Besides, sleaze is fun.

New Orleans is my favorite sleaze town. I always feel a bit decadent after a stroll down Bourbon Street.

But New Orleans is far away. And expensive.

So this summer, feeling a little low on sleaze, I went to Ebro.

For those who don't know, and I bet a lot of you don't, Ebro is down in the Florida Panhandle, a few miles south of Vernon where (they say) jobs were once so scarce that folks cut off their fingers so they could draw disability.

And it's just a little north of the Gulf Coast.

In Ebro there are two cement companies, a logging outfit, a café, a motel, a bait-and-tackle shop, a post office, five churches, two kennels and a dog track.

The Ebro Greyhound Park.

Took two vans to get us there. Wife, children and me. Benny (you remember Benny) and his girls and his mama (my daddy's baby sister, she's 85). And the Bentons from Puckett.

I had been promising my son I would take him ever since I told him about when my Uncle Buck took me.

I was around his age — 14. Uncle Buck gave me $10 and told me that I could pick the dogs and he would place the bets. So I took the money and after half of the card I had run it up to a hundred. Then I lost it all.

"Uncle Buck," I moaned like a seasoned pro, "I lost a $100."

"You didn't lose a damn thing," Uncle Buck snorted. "You lost $90 you never had and the other $10 was mine."

Lesson learned. It doesn't count till you take it home.

My son was thinking about asking Benny (you remember Benny) to be his Uncle Buck. But when Benny didn't bet on a dog named "MyDaughterSarah" even though his daughter is named Sarah and "MyDaughterSarah" came in first and paid $47.20 on a $2 bet, the boy decided to stick with me.

We had fun. We bet on dogs. We calculated odds. (Depend on me to turn gambling into a learning experience.) And we watched the fashion parade that included micro-mini skirts that went past indiscrete and T-shirts with slogans you wouldn't see at a United Methodist Church youth retreat.

My favorite: "I Love Jesus, but I drink a little."

Now, many of you probably know that slogan originated with one Gladys Hardy — "Nana Gladys" to her family and friends. An 88-year-old resident of Austin, Texas, Gladys called The Ellen DeGeneres Show to tell Ellen that she needed to move the spiky plant behind her head because it made her look like Alfalfa (remember "The Little Rascals?"). She and Ellen got to talking and somewhere in the conversation Gladys uttered those immortal words.

The audience ate it up. Gladys has become a cult figure and today is making a little money off her fame — some of which she gives to Meals-on-Wheels.

Now, friends, and you are my friends, that T-shirt appealed to me on a number of levels.

First, it gently poked fun at the sanctified and sober who feel the two concepts — loving the Lord and taking a nip — are mutually exclusive. On Sunday morning pews throughout this nation are filled with people who could, and probably should, wear that T-shirt if for no other reason than to set the record straight.

Honesty in advertising, so to speak.

But secondly, what Gladys caught in a single phrase could easily become a slogan for folks for whom a trip to the dog track is about as far on the wild side as they are willing to walk.

Horse racing is the "sport of kings." Dog racing is the "sport of the slightly sleazy."

If you did find a T-shirt with the Gladys slogan at Churchill Downs or Belmont, it would be funny because it was so out of place. The wisdom of what it says would be lost in its novelty.

But not at Ebro.

At Ebro the Gladys slogan fits right in.

And I will be willing to bet you that come Sunday morning, a goodly number of the people who were there that night, betting and drinking beer, would be in one of Ebro's five churches worshipping God in the beauty of holiness and nursing a slight hangover.

Truth be known, some of them might be worshipping that morning because they had a hangover — "Oh Lord, please make my head stop hurting."

So I came away from Ebro richer, not in money, but in the knowledge of the redemptive value of a little sleaze.

And when I am running low again I'll go back.

Harvey H. Jackson is a professor and chairman of the history department at Jacksonville State University.

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