By Pam O’Dell
Last week, right-leaning Kyle Wingfield (who writes a daily column for the Atlanta Journal Constitution) refuted Democrats’ claims about the need to address income inequality.
The article entitled: “Inequality by the Map; Largely Urban, Overwhelmingly Democratic” often references an Atlantic Monthly article authored by Michael Zuckerman.
Both articles rely heavily on the American Community Survey (a recompilation of U.S. Census statistics). Both authors claim (correctly) that income inequality is often greatest within districts represented by Congressional Democrats.
Setting aside the reality that what is a problem for significant segments of the country’s citizenry is, in fact, our problem, the demographics throughout the United States (and in Georgia) reveal a dark reality that threatens both American prosperity and way of life: We have become a nation of ‘have’ and ‘have nots’-which both reflects- and perpetuates- our political dialogue.
According to a report published by the Georgia Budget and Policy Center (a left-leaning ‘think tank’ ) using the same U.S. Census numbers, Georgia’s poverty is increasing. It is also becoming more suburban and white (characteristics thought to dominate Republican districts in the Georgia).
That reality has not reached those in control at the state capitol.
Embracing a myopic, district- focused fantasy that denies the existence of poverty even within their own constituencies, Georgia’s leadership has embraced a “not our problem” philosophy with regard to poverty.
As a result, almost nothing has been done to address poverty or income inequality in the last decade.
Republicans assumed complete control of the state upon the election of Governor Sonny Perdue in 2003. Both the House and Senate Chambers have strong Republican majorities. All state-wide constitutional officers are Republican.
An informal review of the last decade’s legislative and policy provisions aimed to limit or reduce poverty has produced very little evidence of an effort to address income inequality and the plight of the poor.
According to a Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) report entitled: “Recovery or Bust” published in December of 2013, poverty has increased in Georgia relative to other states.
The report: “Georgia is now the sixth poorest state in the nation, with its current poverty rate the highest it has been since 1982. More than 19 percent of Georgians, or 1.8 million adults and children, lived in poverty in 2012, compared to about 18 percent in 2010.1 Nearly 160,000 more people lived in poverty in Georgia in 2012 than in 2010. About eight out of ten Georgians in poverty live in family households.
“A rise in lower-quality jobs contributed to the rise in poverty since 2010. About 123,000 Georgians ages 16 to 64 live in poverty, even though they work full time. The number of these poor full-time workers increased by more than 20 percent since 2010.
The report concludes: “More Georgians are living on the desperate side of the federal poverty line than at any time in the state’s recent history. At the same time, pathways to exit poverty are increasingly blocked as the state failed to make strategic investments when needed.”
Regarding Wingfield’s contention that poverty is urban, the GBPI report states: “Many of Georgia’s rural poor live in persistently poor counties. Counties are given that classification when they reach poverty rates of 20 percent or more in 1990, 2000, and 2010. Fifty-three percent of Georgia’s 58 rural counties are persistent poverty counties. A rural county is one without a small town of 10,000 to 50,000 residents.”
Melissa Johnson, GBPI Policy Analyst writes in response to Wingfiled’s demographic contention: “It may be worth noting that there are roughly equal numbers of white and black poor people within the state. Also, it may be worth noting that most poor people in the state live in suburban areas, not cities. Though city poverty “rates” are higher, the suburbs have the higher numbers of people in poverty in raw numbers.
Regarding the contention that poverty is of concern only to Democratically-leaning districts and should not be addressed within national policy, Johnson notes: “Inequality within a district also signifies diversity and [that] those who represent more homogenous districts don’t get off the hook for solving the inequality problem just because they have such a district. Inequality exists to some degree in every county in Georgia. Neither state nor federal legislators can enact policies by themselves to decrease income inequality within their districts.
According to the U.S.D.A Economic Research Service, 16.9 percent of Georgia homes (28.8 percent of Georgia’s children) are ‘food insecure.’ This means, they frequently do not know if they are going to have the resources to eat.
Approximately 12 percent of Pickens County residents receive food assistance from the federal government.