What does it mean to be a normal “American?”
When I was young I figured liking baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet made you a solid citizen. I drove a Mustang and preferred pecan pie, but watched the Braves lose often enough to make up for it.
Times have changed. Now, I think Americans can like anything they want as long as they pay their taxes and stay off of my lawn.
An economist recently looked at U.S. Census data and determined the 100 most “normal American” cities. You might think several Georgia towns would make such an esteemed list, but you might also drive a Fiat.
Surprisingly, only two Georgia cities made the list. Even more surprising? The top Georgia metro area on the list is Chattanooga, which is actually in Tennessee.
To make his list, economist Jed Kolko, a senior fellow at the University of California in Berkeley, calculated “how demographically similar each U.S. metropolitan area is to the U.S. overall based on age, educational attainment, race and ethnicity.”
In an article headlined “Normal America is not a small town of white people,” Kolko said cities that are home to 1 to 2 million people tend to more closely match the demographics of the U.S.
According to 2014 data, the U.S. is about 62 percent white, 13 percent black, 17 percent Hispanic and 5 percent Asian. The major metro area that comes closest to that and Kolko’s other criteria is way north of the Mason-Dixon line.
Kolko gave New Haven, Conn., a score of 93. The next most “normal American” city is Tampa, Fla., with a score of 91. Another Connecticut city, Hartford, comes in third at 90.
Georgia cities aren’t very normal according to Kolko’s data, which ranks Atlanta 66th among major metro areas. Augusta, the only other Georgia city on the list, was 81st.
Chattanooga, with a metro area that extends into Georgia, is listed at 55th.
Atlanta is a lot more American than it used to be, according to Kolko. When comparing current demographics to those of the nation in 1950, Atlanta’s score drops from 79 to a lowly 41. What city is most like 1950s America? Ogden, Utah, says Kolko. Chances are you’ve never been there, but some Southern cities still evoke that Norman Rockwell feeling including Chattanooga at No. 3, Knoxville at No. 4 and Greenville, S.C. at No. 9.
As a state, Georgia is ranked 25th on the “normal America” list. The states that do best, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, have large and diverse immigrant populations.
The least normal state is Hawaii, followed by the District of Columbia, which, as we know, is not really a state.
Does it matter if a city or state has similar demographics to the nation? Kolko says yes because politicians cater their messages to what they think is “normal America” and miss the mark. His advice to politicians is to “skip the small towns” and visit New Haven and Tampa to see the real U.S.
Those towns are worth visiting, but there’s plenty worth seeing in small towns.
In Georgia, we tend to not elect governors that hail from large cities. Roy Barnes, who was governor from 1999 to 2003, is the only “big city” governor I recall.
On a national level, very few presidents call America’s biggest cities home.
President Obama is from Chicago, but Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter (obligatory Plains shoutout!) were from small towns. George H.W. Bush was born in a suburb of Boston but his son, George W. Bush, was born in New Haven, Conn., the “most normal” city in America.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton live in New York.