State of the metro Atlanta region — it’s tough
By Maggie Lee
A quarter of metro Atlantans have lost a job due to COVID-19 and nearly one in five have gotten help from a food bank since March, according to a major annual survey that’s putting numbers on the troubles of a trying year.
Nearly half of 4,400 people also said they either had their wages or hours cut or had to quit their job for safety reasons.
And 58% of people in the 10-county metro Atlanta area know someone who’s had COVID-19, according to the 2020 Metro Atlanta Speaks survey organized by the Atlanta Regional Commission, a group of metro Atlanta’s governments.
The survey covers Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties.
Only about 18% of metro Atlantans experienced no meaningful change to their employment, said Mike Carnathan, manager of the Research and Analytics Division at the ARC, presenting the results of the annual survey on Friday morning at the ARC’s State of the Region Breakfast.
The vast majority of people either had hours cut or lost their jobs altogether or quit over health fears. And layoffs were the worst at jobs that pay the least.
“So this is really demonstrates how the pandemic has been a fundamentally different experience for low-income workers,” Carnathan said.
The ARC added some new questions this year, in light of protestors across the country bringing racial inequity and police brutality into the national spotlight. The survey was conducted from late July to late August.
Usually transportation is metro Atlanta’s top concern in a big annual survey, often followed by crime. This year, public health and race relations are making a strong showing — especially among younger folks.
The survey asked whether discrimination against Black people is a serious problem.
The vast majority of people aged 18-34 either agree or strongly agree with that — about 90% of them.
And the older and whiter a respondent was, the less likely they were to agree, down to 64% among those over the age of 65.
“This difference in perception is critically important for us to pay attention to,” Carnathan said.
There’s precision and a certain amount of surprise in the numbers, but the topics — public health, employment and racism — have been appearing with more or less force in Atlanta’s established civic sphere for months.
And the ARC invited folks in to speak at the breakfast about responses too in the short term and long term.
The Latin American Association has long worked to do a lot of things like help people get better jobs, education and stabilize their families in other ways. Now it’s so much more about keeping people in their homes and keeping them fed.
“We’re providing triage,” said Santiago Marquez, CEO of the Latin American Association.
The United Way of Greater Atlanta is finding some things that will probably be part of how they do work permanently, said its president and CEO, Milton Little. United Way is a national organization, and its chapters often work with smaller nonprofits.
“More general operating support for nonprofit organizations, more capacity-building, more engagement on an ongoing basis,” Little said. “Taking more risks with organizations that perhaps, perhaps were not part of our portfolios historically but are on the ground lines and [in] indigenous and people of color communities.”
Bringing an “equity lens” will have to be foremost in peoples’ minds going forward, he said.
The ARC already realizes that the region is suffering from a growing lack of quality affordable housing and that rents are rising faster than wages, said Executive Director Doug Hooker.
And a wave of evictions is liable to hit soon, as long as the recession continues and as courts continue or restart eviction proceedings.
At the breakfast, the ARC didn’t try to bring all doom and gloom. They highlighted some bright spots, like the work to create a 100-mile-long park along the Chattahoochee River, and the SOAR anti-eviction fund that’s set to get off the ground this year.
“But today’s health and economic crises only serve to magnify the systemic problems that have faced lower income and minority people in our region for decades,” Hooker said.