Policy Response Critical for Georgia’s Working Families

Posted by Wesley Tharpe

Each year, GBPI’s State of Working Georgia report seeks to answer the question of how typical Georgia families are faring:  Are they making enough to meet their basic needs? Are there enough jobs to go around? Are they gainfully employed? Is economic opportunity widely shared? The end result is a stark reminder of what, at the end of the day, public policy should really be all about:  improving people’s lives.

This year, State of Working Georgia reveals the jarring reality of how far the state’s working families have fallen in the past few years. Household incomes have crashed back to where they were in 1990, and family wealth (e.g. home equity, savings accounts) appears to have done the same. Annual wages have fallen nearly $2,000 for middle class Georgians since the recession began, and Georgia’s poverty rate has shot up far above the national average. In short, due to the almost unprecedented impact of the Great Recession, working Georgians have seen essentially two full decades worth of economic progress disappear.

Having grown up in a working class Georgia family, I can attest that these facts are not simply numbers on a page – they’re stories about real people. Behind each statistic is a friend, relative or neighbor who’s struggling to meet basic needs or save for the future. Someone who’s lost his job or her home. A family that’s fallen into poverty through no fault of their own, or one that might go bankrupt just because someone got sick.

Many of the trends hammering Georgia residents are national or even global in scope, and no set of state policy actions could fully fix all the problems outlined in this report. At the same time though, state policy does have the ability to help push the needle in one direction versus the other. Sustained commitments to education and job training, for example, enhance opportunities and bolster incomes, while maintaining an adequate safety net helps those in rough times get back on their feet. Continued budget cuts like we’ve seen the last few years, however, help to undermine the path to full recovery and exacerbate working Georgians’ hardship.

These continue to be rough times for Georgia families, and things are only starting to slowly turn around. People have a long way to go to fully get back where they were before the Great Recession, and to get there, they’re going to need an assist from those with the power to help them – Georgia’s leaders. Here’s to hoping they rise to the challenge and answer that noble call.

Download the full report:  State of Working Georgia 2012.

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