Though some progress has been made in recent decades, Georgia still ranks among those states with the highest rates of childhood poverty and continues to perform poorly on other indicators of childhood wellness.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in Georgia, 519,000 related children under the age of eighteen were living below the poverty level in 2017. Of these, 258,000 were African American, a figure that represented 31 percent of all Black children in the state. Eleven percent, or 115,000, of all white children, and 32 percent, or 117,000, of all Hispanic children in the state also live in poverty, according to the foundation’s research.
Those figures suggest a reversal of trends that saw rates of childhood poverty decline statewide during the latter decades of the twentieth century. Since the turn of last century, however, rates of childhood poverty have inched higher, increasing from 18.3 percent in 2001 to 21.5 percent in 2017, according to the Annie. E. Casey Foundation.
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.
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 also offers a variety of beneficial services to counties.