Children in Poverty in Georgia
The 2000 U.S. census found that, in Georgia, 354,633 related children under the age of eighteen were living below the poverty level. A majority of these, 222,909, were African American and represented 30 percent of all black children in the state. The census figures show that 9 percent, or 113,621, of all white children, and 25 percent, or 33,364, of all Hispanic children in the state also live in poverty.
While the actual number of children living in poverty has increased slightly over the past three decades, following the increase in population, the percentage of those living in poverty has declined. In 1989, 21 percent of children lived in poverty compared with 16.7 percent by 2000. In 2001, 15.6 percent of American children lived in poverty, and Georgia ranked thirty-fourth in the nation for the percentage of its children in poverty.
The U.S. Census Bureau bases the poverty threshold on the number of people in a household who share an income of less than three times the cost of food for the household, as estimated by the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers. In 2005 the U.S. weighted-average poverty line for a household with two persons, including a single mother with a child, was $12,830. For a three-person household, the poverty threshold was $16,090; for a four-person household, $19,350; for a five-person household, $22,610.
Concentrations of extremely poor children are generally distinguished geographically by race. Counties with extreme percentages of black children in poverty are scattered throughout the state but are concentrated across the rich farmlands of the Black Belt in central Georgia. Farm tenancy of this subregion may be traced to as far back as the end of the Civil War (1861-65), and the economy of these counties remains largely agricultural.
Extreme white-child poverty is found in the mountainous counties of the north and scattered in other areas around the state, but it is not as concentrated in the Black Belt as is black-child poverty.
County Socioeconomic Structure
Poverty in Georgia arises out of the socioeconomic structure of counties, and a number of factors influence the degree of child poverty. The lower the average income of employed persons within a county, the greater the likelihood that families in that area are living in poverty. The following factors are also likely to raise the level of poverty:
—an increase in the number of persons sixty-five years and older and of persons younger than eighteen, in relation to the number of employed workers (which increases the burden of support for the workers)
—an increase in the average size of farms (which decreases employment opportunities)
—an increase in the number of female-headed households with children but no husband present
— an increase in the percent of persons with a disability (which reduces the effective workforce)
Efforts to improve the income level of low-income families aim at the heart of the problem and include the promotion of higher wages through upgrading occupations, education and skills training, and migration to areas of greater work opportunities. The following factors will improve the poverty picture of a county:
—an increase in the percent of the married population
—an increase in the percent of the population in the middle and higher income classes
—an increase in retail sales per capita
—an increase in the average weekly wage of all workers
—an increase in the percent of new immigrant residents.
A number of agencies are working to improve the well-being of children in Georgia. The KIDS COUNT program, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and sponsored by the Family Connection Partnership in Atlanta, annually tracks ten well-being factors by county in order to stimulate action to improve conditions. The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services offers a variety of beneficial services to counties. The Georgia Rural Development Council sponsors programs to increase economic activity and community development by working through sixteen regional development centers.
Susan R. Boatright and Douglas C. Bachtel, eds., Georgia County Guide (Athens: Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, University of Georgia, annual).
Abbott L. Ferriss, "Social Structure and Child Poverty," Social Indicators Research 78 (September 2006): 453-72.
Abbott L. Ferriss, Atlanta
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.