By Saba Long
Among the flurry of press releases pronouncing the rebound of state’s economy, the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) released a sobering report this month on the Great Recession’s impact on working and middle class Georgians.
The institute’s State of Working Georgia 2012 report addresses battered annual incomes, decreased wealth, depressed wages and historically high poverty. There’s another Georgia far removed from the cluster of Buckhead A-Class office buildings, the trendy Midtown restaurant scene and the gameday suites.
Household incomes are at historically low levels, the poverty rate has increased, causing more citizens to rely on government aid to stay afloat.
Presently, the state’s median household income — $45,973 — is within a few dollars of the 1990 level, adjusted for inflation, erasing two decades worth of gains. Just before the economic crash, the median peaked at about $55,000. From 2007-2011, the Great Recession deflated Georgians household income by more than $7,000, compared to a roughly $4,500 decrease nationwide.
According to an August Pew study, last year 51 percent of all adults were considered middle class, down from 61 percent, roughly 40 years ago. The 2000s, dubbed the “lost decade”, brought about significant decline in middle and lower income wealth, 28 and 45 percent, respectfully.
In contrast, upper-income Americans experienced a 1 percent increase in median wealth. Property values plummeted by nearly $154 billion in the state in a three-year span, wiping out housing equity — the primary source of wealth for low and middle income families.
Equally troubling, the 2012 financial security index from the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) ranks Georgia dead last nationwide due to depleted savings accounts, poor credit and the alarming number of bankruptcies across the state.
During the Great Recession years, the state experienced the third largest increase in the country for citizens living below the poverty line. In fact, more than one in four Georgia children live in poverty.
It is well documented that children from less-advantaged families are less likely to be ready for school at age five, to graduate from high school without going to jail or becoming pregnant and ultimately less likely to graduate from college.
Our population has grown by 4.7 percent in the past three years, yet job gain has not returned to pre-recession levels. The state’s unemployment rate is expected to hover around 8.2 percent through year 2014.
Yes, the state and local governments have been in aggressive in their attempts to stop the economic hemorrhaging. But we must do even more. Now is the time to challenge the work preparedness of our high school juniors and seniors not ready or interested in post secondary education.
Now is the time to invest in long-term infrastructure projects, encourage small business and remove unnecessary red tape for the sake of getting Georgia’s citizens in the black. The state of the state demands it.