Georgia's Jenkins County among nation's hardest-hit by recession

If the Great Recession has an epicenter, it may well be Georgia’s Jenkins County.

The tiny county of just 8,500 residents saw its total compensation – wages plus benefits – plummet by 23 percent in 2008, more than any other county in the nation, according to a study released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Jenkins, tucked into the southeast corner of the state between Augusta and Savannah, has been hard hit by job cuts at manufacturing plants that have closed down. The rural county’s unemployment rate hit a Depression-like 21.3 percent earlier this year, more than double the statewide average.

King Rocker, mayor of Millen, the county seat, said the area has lost virtually all of its 1,700 manufacturing jobs in the past few years. The big blow came in 2008, when a window manufacturer closed three plants in the area, wiping out 600 jobs.

“It’s tough. There are no jobs,” said Rocker. “It’s bad times around here.”

Home break-ins and other property crimes have shot up as the locally economy crumbled, he said.

Jenkins is relatively poor, with a median household income of $28,000, compared to $49,000 nationally, according to the U.S. Census.

Other counties to experience sharp declines in compensation last year include Jasper and Ben Hill, which each had a 12 percent drop. At the other end of the spectrum: Heard County, up 53 percent, and Peach and Chattahoochee counties, up 17 percent each.

Metro Atlanta’s compensation was basically flat in 2008, according to the report, though some areas experienced notable swings. Clayton County’s compensation fell 4 percent, while Forsyth’s rose 7 percent