Middle class still reeling from recession in Georgia

To see the report go to http://gbpi.org/state-of-working-georgia-2012

It’s no secret the Great Recession hammered Georgians’ jobs, wages and wealth. But a study to be released today by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute says two decades of economic progress by lower- and middle-class Georgians disappeared.

The State of Working Georgia 2012 shows the pain of the recession lingering – and, in some cases, worsening – in the two years of slow recovery since the recession technically ended.

Take wages, for example. The median annual wage in Georgia dropped more than $2,500 between 2010 and 2011, the nonprofit reports, a steeper decline than in any other state.

The wage loss helps explain Georgia’s ranking as the fifth poorest state in the country, according to Wesley Tharpe, a policy analyst for the nonpartisan think tank.

Nearly one in five Georgians lives in poverty - below $22,891 a year for a family of four, according to a federal definition — the institute reports. Only four other states are poorer.

“Everyone knows that the Great Recession had a huge impact on jobs,” Tharpe said. “But the impact on the family finances of the working poor and the middle class has been just as severe and I don’t think people understand that as much.”

The recession killed eight percent, or 338,500, jobs in Georgia, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state has since regained about 130,000, and the unemployment rate is at 8.7 percent after peaking above 10 percent.

The jobless pain was felt more keenly by Georgians in the prime of their working lives, the report says. In 2010, the percentage of employed Georgians ages of 25 and 54 was at its lowest since 1979, at 73 percent.

Median household income, one of the most commonly used measures of a family’s financial well-being, hit a peak of $55,000 prior to the recession. A year ago, it had dipped to $45,973 – about the same level as 1990 with inflation factored in.

Tharpe says there “is no silver bullet” to stem the tide of income loss and poverty’s rise. He adds, though, that “in Georgia, there has been an over-emphasis on tax cuts and government subsidies and and under-emphasis on positive investments in the future, like education.”