Why Atlanta is Not the Move
Despite being seen as the “Black Mecca” and one of the largest cities for black people to thrive, Atlanta is not all it’s cracked up to be. At #18 on the list of cities that have a large black population (over 54%), Atlanta falls short of the promise of prosperity, especially to black people.
The top five cities with a high black population are: Detroit, Michigan (#1), Jackson, Mississippi, Chester, Pennsylvania, Miami Gardens, Florida and Orangeburg South Carolina, yet people are not flocking to live in those cities. Why? The marketing for Atlanta is unmatched.
Television. Music. Movies. Regular-degular people. They all have made Atlanta look and sound amazing, both gangster and glamorous. The low cost of living may lure you in, while the beautiful greenery, extra-lit nightlife and endless entertainment options make the move to Atlanta seem like a no-brainer.
Seeing people who look like you as school teachers and principals, history-making politicians, and a chance celebrity sightings are all the motivation one needs to move here. However, Atlanta is more like Donald Glover’s version than what’s shown on reality TV.
The Reality of Atlanta
Life in the A is more like an episode of The First 48 than Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta. There is more to Atlanta than the fancy restaurants and cool clubs that are shown on reality tv. Atlanta is realer than the fun times you may experience over a three-day weekend that makes you want to visit again and again.
Living in Atlanta just isn’t as glamorous. Excessive homelessness, rising gentrification, high unemployment rates among blacks, below average paying jobs and the horrific traffic won’t be an upcoming storyline on any show. My first visit to the Underground Mall in downtown Atlanta was a culture shock. Just walking through the streets I’ve seen more homeless people there than I’ve seen all my 37 years of life. Where I’m from, you’ll spot one on a bench on the green in downtown New Haven or a couple here and there on Grand Ave, but not to the extent I’ve seen in Atlanta.
There were hundreds of homeless people in line for a hot meal on Forsyth & Mitchell Streets. They hung out at ATL Woodruff Park and slept near highway underpasses. The amount of homeless people I saw made me want to cry real tears – and do something. In 2016, I took my oldest son along with me and two co-workers to hand out “blessing bags” we gathered of toiletries and snacks. The people we met were gracious, despite their circumstances and requested blankets and more food next time, while the shelters asked us to donate directly – instead of handing out our donations due to the amount of people who weren’t able to receive them.
Another reality I wasn’t prepared for was active shooters at local middle and high schools. When I lived on the Eastside of Atlanta (“Decatur where it’s Greater”), I went to register my oldest son for school, and right before I registered him, I was informed of a lockdown at the middle school due to an active shooter. In middle school? It was disheartening. Needless to say, he didn’t go there.
I moved to a different part of Atlanta, where gunshots on Tuesday nights, flashing blue lights and yellow caution tape at a gas station were regular sights. Watching the news about drug raids in a neighboring complex, an accidental murder by stray bullets on the corner and a road rage death on an I-285 exit that I took everyday were the highlights I saw more often than the spotting of a RHOA or a Braxton sister at the Hartsfield-Jackson International airport.
From Hotlanta to WET-Lanta Real Quick
Another draw to life in the A is the good weather. The sun blazes on a different level in Georgia. ATL is known for its sizzling hot summers (averages 88 degrees) but people rarely talk about how much rain Atlanta gets.
If you’re not into rain, don’t move to the A!! If the rain doesn’t bother you, make sure you pack your umbrella and rain boots because it rains all year round – especially during spring, autumn and winter months. Summer rain happens, too. Summer rain is usually thunderstorms with a touch of sunshine and pretty rainbow when it ends.
Out of 365 days in a year, there are 217 days of sunshine but 109 days of rain or some sort of precipitation (sleet, hail or snow) – compared to the US average of 106 days of precipitation.
The rain comes down, consistently. Atlanta gets 52 inches of rain per year, compared to the US average of 32 inches.
Fall Fashion Where?
While most fall weather lovers get to enjoy pumpkin spice lattes and hoodie season, in ATL it’s still 90 degrees in September. We still get pumpkin lattes for the chilly mornings but by ten, those summer temps come back through – and stay all day long.
It’s even hard to get dressed in Atlanta during the fall months. Autumn attire isn’t a cute pair of boots and a bomber jacket. Nope, it’s open-toe sandals and sundresses, mini skirts and tank tops. Boot season doesn’t start until after Halloween and only lasts until Thanksgiving. Then it’s December – cold asf and wet, per usual.
Winter Comes and Goes
Don’t throw away your North Face fleece when you get to Atlanta. While it does not snow as often as it does where I’m from, it gets extremely cold in the winter. The lowest temperatures can reach below freezing (30 degrees and lower). The cold weather usually starts after Thanksgiving and lasts until Valentine’s Day. Temperatures can reach low digits similar to New England winters, and January is usually the coldest.
Luckily, the cold doesn’t last too long. By St. Patrick’s Day, Atlanta temperatures rise up to a comfortable 65 degrees. That’s no-coat, long-sleeves, flip-flops are optional levels before Mother Nature switches back to Hotlanta by Memorial Day.
The Life & Times of an Atlanta Commuter
I always wondered about the “longer than a Georgia mile” saying until I moved to Georgia. Being without a car for a while, I learned a ten-minute drive can equate to a two-hour walk, no exaggeration. Those Georgia miles are long.
If you’re a commuter, your days are long and expensive. Buses and trains cost $2.50 per ride. You can transfer from the bus to train one way only. It will cost you $5 to get to and from your destination per day.
How long is one’s commute? On average, Atlantans are in their car for two hours to and from work.
I lived in Stone Mountain and worked in Sandy Springs. I had to take a bus and two trains to get there and back. I would leave Stone Mountain at 5:20 am to catch the 121 Marta bus, take a 40-minute ride to the closest Marta station (Kensington) to make the 6:10 am blue line train to Five Points station. From there, I had to wait seven to ten minutes or run down two flights of stairs to catch a second train. I usually got to Five Points by 6:30 am, I had to connect to train #2 (the red or gold line) by 6:40 am. That train would get to Sandy Springs between 7:20-7:30 am. Then I had a 15-minute walk from Medical Center station to my job.
Imagine how late I would have been for my 8 o’clock shift if I had woke up late or there was any type of delay with the bus or train (which happens at least once a week). And the way my boss lady was set up…she was a stickler for punctuality and her disciplinary action for excessive tardiness was termination, despite the inevitable Marta delays.
After a year or so in my job, I earned a promotion in marketing. The position required mandatory travel, which meant I needed a car. Some counties I had to market in did not have Marta connectors available. Those areas included parts of Gwinnett county (which has Gwinnett County Transit) and north Atlanta, like Alpharetta, Cumming, and Dawsonville and west side of Atlanta like Acworth and Marietta.
A vehicle is a necessity, since Atlanta is such a big city, but the traffic may make you second guess the move altogether.
Atlanta Traffic Kills Any Plans
Most people don’t live in the city of Atlanta. Most people live in the outskirts of the city (aka metro Atlanta), while working in the city, which means everyone encounters some form of traffic. Atlanta traffic is bumper-to-bumper on major highways and side streets. There is no escaping it. I remember one time, I was on I-285 about two exits away from my destination, and GPS said it will take 20 minutes to drive two miles. Whew! If you’re impatient, Atlanta traffic will teach you patience or give you a bad case of road rage.
An eight hour workday can easily turn into a 12-hour day just by going to and from work, especially if you work the average 8am-5pm schedule.
The morning rush starts at 6:30 and lasts until like 10 am. Afternoon rush hour in Atlanta starts at two and lasts until seven. No lie. Make plans for after 8 pm if they require any travel time on the highways.
Summer traffic isn’t as bad because school is out, and people tend to go on vacation. From August to May, expect to be in your car for 15-20 minutes less than during school months.
Do not, I repeat (for the ones in the back), DO NOT move to Atlanta without a job. The job market will have you in your feelings. If you do not have a transferable position that can relocate you to the metro Atlanta area, the likelihood you’ll get a job on your own is slim, unless you’re interested in a career in hospitality, fast food services or entertainment.
Corporate positions are rarely available to the public. Companies usually hire from within or through temporary agencies.
It’s Not What You Know It’s Who You Know That Matters
With two degrees and a certificate in management, you would think it would be easy to get a job. But you’d be wrong.
I moved to Atlanta in June 2012 without a job and found out I was pregnant a month later. As time went on, nobody wanted to hire me; not with a bulging baby bump and over-qualifications.
My first job offer in Atlanta was as a “marketer” in a Sam’s Club. I interviewed and was all excited. Until I found out what I’d really be doing. You know the food booths? Yeah—that was considered marketing. I declined the second interview. And kept applying for jobs in media. I just knew I was going to work as a journalist #youcouldnttellmenothing. I applied to any and every type of job at Cox Media, Turner Broadcasting and Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) and still didn’t get hired.
After a disappointing year of searching and applying for all types of jobs in Atlanta, nothing materialized so I had to migrate back to Connecticut for work. I relied on old connections to secure a job. My HR friend from high school helped me get temporary position until I was hired a local newspaper to do part-time production work.
After almost a year in that role, I got a call from a college friend, who lived and worked in Atlanta, about a full-time job opening that she recommended me for. I interviewed on a Friday and got an offer the following Monday and started two days later. Then it was on!! I was in Atlanta, again. #BacklikeINeverLeft
Entertainment is Key
If you’re looking for work as a bartender, bottle girl, dancer, DJ or security, you may have better luck finding work as an entertainer since the nightlife in Atlanta is always popping.
If you’re into film and television, you may get work as an extra. However, the pay range isn’t high, $8-$10/hour, which is more than Georgia’s minimum wage at $5.15/hour. You have to have a genuine love for the craft because the hours on set are super long and you spend more time waiting than you do acting.
Remember, Atlanta is a tourist destination, so if you have any interest in hospitality work, hotels are always in demand. Waitressing is also a good job market in Atlanta, however, the pay is $2.65/hour on W-2s but the tips will make up for the low wage.
Entrepreneurs May Thrive
You can thrive as an entrepreneur in Atlanta, though. It’s easier than ever to obtain paperwork for an LLC with their online application process. It depends on the county you live in, but it’s fairly simple to get started.
If you’re selling anything — from blankets to wigs, you’ll get a buyer in Atlanta. Atlantans definitely support any small businesses. Whether you have an in-demand product, or something consumers don’t know they need yet, as long as the business has excellent customer service, and decent prices, it will do well.
I’ve seen groups of kids lug a cooler up and down a freeway to sell bottles of water for $1 on a hot summer day and a man sell NFL team flags out of the trunk of their car at the cusp of winter.
I’ve also had a few entrepreneurs try to sell my boys some baby turtles in a tank at fast food spots and a young man sell homemade air fresheners at a car dealership. Atlanta is where the people are so don’t be afraid to push a product or service.
Panhandlers and Scammers
“Where my hustlers? Where my boosters at?” They are probably scamming in the A!!! No shade, but if you travel to any city in the metro Atlanta area you’ll see what it is…No matter the race or ethnicity, Atlanta is the home of the hustler.
Panhandlers are on every street corner, at airports, on highway exit ramps and in parking lots with their witty, clever cardboard signs. Some stay posted up against the brick wall of the local Walmart, scouring the parking lot with a sob story to tug at your heart strings just enough to open your wallet. You may see a mom with her child outside of a hotel with a sign asking for money for a room…then moments later as you pull off, and she pulls out a money phone from her stash.
Atlanta is All About Location
Realtors will tell you, it’s all about location. Atlanta is a prime location for real estate, whether you rent or buy. Move with caution when researching an area to live. Property owners and leasing offices will lie to your face about the neighborhood like the West End just to get their leases signed. Sometimes they will lock you in a two year contact in a janky neighborhood for a reasonable monthly price because they know what you don’t know any better.
Any home you find on Craigslist may be a setup to get you robbed. There isn’t a three bedroom house, condo or townhouse in Alpharetta, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs or Buckhead for $800 per month. The average monthly rent cost in those areas are $1300-$1600.
Zillow has a more accurate estimate of rent fees and property value if you’re looking to relocate to Atlanta. A two-bedroom townhouse rental can cost $1100-$1600 per month inside the perimeter. Outside the perimeter, those same amenities range from $900-$1400 per month.
Gentrification is also plays a big role in the cost of living in Atlanta. The city of Atlanta used to be fairly affordable until housing developments began construction. Companies have purchased houses for the low-low, under $50,000, then remodel them with new paint and updated kitchen appliances to resell for triple. And the people buying aren’t the ones who historically lived there. You may purchase a home for $250,000 in Atlanta while houses on the same street are boarded up with broken toilets in their yards.
Tip: Do your own research and try to reach out to companies who have staff that looks like you. Because not all of them will have your best interest in mind.
Educate yourself before you move to Atlanta. Ask real questions and try not to get caught up in how you think Atlanta is.
I’m not saying Atlanta isn’t beautiful, fun, and entertaining…because it is. But it’s not for everyone. Some people are living a good life in the A, while others are struggling to make ends meet. I’ve been on both sides. Atlanta is just like anywhere else.
What you see on TV, in pictures posted on the ‘Gram and in movies, isn’t always the real of it. Sometimes, it’s all smoke & mirrors. Sometimes it’s just hype.
Despite all the hard lessons I’ve learned by blindly relocating to Atlanta, it’s still Atlanta. There’s a sense of home, and unity I felt when I moved here that hasn’t changed – seven years later.
The southern hospitality. The mega churches. The day parties. The nightlife. The mountains. The parks. The entertainment. The culture. The food. The black excellence. The possibilities are truly endless. ATL is still dope – in real life!