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In study of 300 U.S. cities, Atlanta doesn’t make top 30 ‘most prosperous’ cut

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Analysis of data from 2000 to 2016 included all U.S. cities with populations of more than 100,000

A photo of Midtown Atlanta construction in 2016.
Crane-watching in prosperous Midtown, circa late 2016.
Curbed Atlanta

Could a recent analysis of “prosperity indicators” in cities across the fruited plain call into question Atlanta’s reputation as the everlasting boomtown (roughly 2008 to 2011 notwithstanding)?

Maybe. Although supposed boomtown brethren such as Austin appear to be in the same boat, per the findings.

In order to determine not the best, richest, or most livable cities, but the most prosperous ones, researchers with apartment search website RENTCafe studied a set of proportional changes in all U.S. cities with 100,000 populations or more between 2000 and 2016.

That’s more than 300 different cities where improvements (or not) were gauged, not urban-suburban metro areas.

The methodology took into account six indicators, which included: changes in population size; poverty statistics; median household income (adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars); home values; unemployment; and the share of city dwellers with college degrees.

All things considered, the City of Atlanta landed at a somewhat unimpressive 36th place.

That’s good for the highest ranking in Georgia, the country’s eighth most populous state, and the best among large cities in the Southeast, with the exception of Miami at No. 8.

(Note: Researchers found that New Orleans was so decimated after Hurricane Katrina they excluded it from consideration; meanwhile, inconsistencies with Census data kept Sandy Springs out of the “most prosperous” running).

Granted, the relatively small size of Atlanta proper likely does it no favors in such a study, as the influence of generally prosperous, intown places such as Decatur and Brookhaven isn’t included.

But the findings do shine a light on Atlanta’s shortcomings, such as dismal wage growth (1 percent) as the sheer number of college-educated residents has ballooned (39 percent) and unemployment went off a cliff (down 26 percent).

Atlanta’s overall rank among the country’s “most prosperous” cities between 2000 and 2016 includes some Sun Belt competitors.

The good news? Atlanta made the cut in this shortlist of cities with positive change in all “prosperity indicators,” although “income change” doesn’t get much worse.

Analysts describe this group of only 11 cities as an “exclusive club.”