DOES POVERTY THREATEN GEORGIA’S FUTURE?

Two recent reports should alarm any responsible citizens concerned about the future of our state and our nation. The 2011 Census Bureau Report documents that the 15.1% of Americans (46.2 million) are living below the poverty line. It is the highest in the 52 years census figures have been compiled. The national poverty level for a family of four is $22, 314 a year. Over 20 million individuals suffer hard poverty defined as half of the poverty level, meaning a family of four on $11, 157.

The South was the only region to show statistically significant increases in both the poverty rate and the number in poverty — 16.9 percent and 19.1 million in 2010 — up from 15.7 percent and 17.6 million in 2009. In 2010, the poverty rates in the Northeast, Midwest and the West were not statistically different than in 2009. In other words, the entire deterioration in the numbers occurred in the Southeast. In Georgia, it is worse, 18.7% (compared to the region’s 16.9%), making Georgia the third poorest state in the nation.

The Brookings Institute released the second report on September 9, 2011 titled “Education, Demand and Unemployment in Metropolitan America” documents that the educational requirements of the average job exceed the average educational attainment of the 25 and over population. This is compounded by shrinkage in industries in which lesser-educated workers can be used – construction, manufacturing and hospitality.

This is not just an inner city problem. The same Brookings report notes that the median income in the suburbs in Atlanta declined 11.6% in 2010 compared to 2009 and the number of poor living in the suburbs of Atlanta increased an astonishing 121.8%, in 2010 over 2009. This increase reflects significant relocation of the poor to the suburbs as well as deteriorating employment prospects. The mismatch between educational skills of the population and the requirements of industry as well as the decline in employment opportunities for lesser-educated individuals threatens to result in an expanding underclass of citizens lacking the skills to access the benefits of our society.

My experience with homeless services leads me to believe we need significant investments in education and job skills training as well as repairs to our safety nets for those falling behind. It is hard to succeed at job training and education when you have to worry about housing every night.

I fear that we lack a national consensus to address these issues and I know that these conditions cannot exist without threatening our children’s futures. A political class that focuses on what budget proposals can pass in a divided Congress rather than what is good policy is not likely to coalesce around a coherent strategy that serves a growing underclass.

BWB Contributor JACK HARDIN, Co-chair of the Regional Commission on Homelessness and co-founder of the Atlanta-based Rogers & Hardin law firm

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  1. Burroughston Broch says: