Metro ATL losing its middle class, good-paying jobs

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Metro Atlanta’s middle class is shrinking faster than the Braves’ chances of winning the pennant.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. But there’s no question that our region’s middle class is being gradually hollowed out, so gradually that it is easy to go unnoticed. But gauged over time, the trend is crystal clear.

Over the past 15 years, according to Census Bureau data, the percentage of upper- and especially middle-income households in the 29-county Atlanta metro region has declined significantly, with an offsetting increase in the percentage of low-income households. That’s a national phenomenon, but it has hit our own region particularly hard.

How hard? According to a study released this month by the Pew Research Group, the only major metro region to experience a steeper decline in its middle class was Detroit. Other data tell the same story. Median household income in the Atlanta-Roswell-Sandy Springs metro area fell by $14,359, from $83,531 in 1999 to $69,136 in 2014, adjusted for inflation.

Think about that. That’s $14,000 less per household, per year. Multiply that by the number of households in the region, and you have an idea of the overall loss of earning power, spending power and quality of life. Again, the only major metro area with a faster decline was Detroit, with a drop of $14,449.

Statewide numbers are just as bad. Between 1999 and 2014, median household income in Georgia fell by $10,700, a decline again exceeded only by Michigan. In 1999, we ranked 15th in median income. By 2014, we had fallen to 33rd. So when state leaders bemoan the growth of food stamp enrollment in recent years, snidely attributing it to constituents who “have turned the safety net into a hammock,” they ought to look at actual data before stooping to such condescension.

In fact, according to a new study by the University of California, some 49 percent of Georgians working in manufacturing are paid so poorly that they have to rely on the public safety net to make ends meet. The only state with a worse rate is Mississippi. Again, these are working people with a job.

This should not be happening. We’re a SunBelt metro area, not a northern city frozen over for a good part of the year. We’re a metro region deeply integrated into the global economy, not a city gutted by the collapse of manufacturing jobs. But you couldn’t tell it from the economic trends.

Now, one way to reverse such trends would be to invest in education. At every level — individual, regional, state and national — the best way to increase earning power, economic stability and quality of life is through education. Our elected leaders constantly preach that refrain, and they’re right to do so.

But what they preach and what they do are two different things.

Georgia leaders have cut so much from higher education over the past decade — and offset it with tuition increases — that we are one of just seven states to have raised tuition by 60 percent or more since 2007-08, according to the Center for Budget Priorities in Washington. Overall, Georgia has slashed per-student support for higher education by 20 percent, and as tuition has soared the HOPE scholarship program has been whittled back, compounding the problem.

Our leaders remain fixated on cutting taxes, under the theory that reducing the cost of doing business will lead to more business. Setting aside the wisdom of that theory for a moment, doesn’t that same dynamic play out in higher education? If you raise the price of something by 60 percent, aren’t you going to get a lot less of it, at the very time when you need it most?

You also have to wonder whether the region is paying a price for its refusal to invest in itself and re-invent itself. The contrast with a region such as Denver, which committed itself years ago to a transit-oriented future, is stark. As Politico reports, that region found a way to work together toward a common goal, and it’s paying off:

“Their ability to work collectively—and the public’s willingness to approve major taxpayer investments—has created a transit system that is already altering Denver’s perception of itself, turning an auto-centric city into a higher-density, tightly-integrated urban center that aims to outcompete the bigger, older coastal cities on the global stage….

In recent years, Denver has been storming national rankings lists: Brookings Institution demographer William Frey’s best (2011) and second best (2013) city for attracting millennials; the best city for college graduates (2014, Apartments.com); the largest increase in residents with college degrees (U.S. Census, 2014); the best commercial real estate market (Coldwell Banker, 2015); the second best for launching a startup (2014, Forbes); and, this year, U.S. News and World Report’s best place to live.”

Metro Atlanta, by comparison, is paralyzed. We cannot act, plan or grow as a region because we lack the means to think as a region, and we lack the means to think as a region because we are more fixated on the lines that divide us than the future that unites us. Our state leaders remain committed to an economic development strategy right out of the 19th century, content to wring diminishing returns from the investments made by earlier generations rather than take on the risk of reinvention. Decisions that needed to be made one or two decades ago are still being pushed off to some vague point in the future, and as we look around at peer cities we see the vitality and prosperity that complacency has cost us.

Reader Comments 1

1692 comments
Brad Richards
Brad Richards

Relative to other large-population metro areas no. So long as the cost of housing and transportation relative to median income stays reasonable compared to NY, LA, and SF.

Joel Shipp
Joel Shipp

It seems like this is one headline that just might be correct.

Damon Gordon Burrwell
Damon Gordon Burrwell

I thought "Magic City" had all the good jobs....\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602

Tim Chadd Sr.
Tim Chadd Sr.

Keep voting Republican and there won't be a middle class in metro Atlanta in 20 yrs.

Joel Shipp
Joel Shipp

Atlanta is run by mainly Democrats.

Johnny Knight
Johnny Knight

keep voting DEM and stay on the PLANTATION begging for a handout you stupid F..k!

Woodrow Winters
Woodrow Winters

Atlanta has been under democratic rule since at least 1942 moron.

Phil Grimes
Phil Grimes

Metro Atlanta is not all Democratic....Read the article... Georgia and most Metro is GOP

Mike Hausmann
Mike Hausmann

Google suburbs.....and #bestschools and #lowcrime and #nooneisbreakingintomycarmuch

Alene Bennett
Alene Bennett

This is not a fluke. It's was carefully orchestrated and planned to shift majority of wealth.

Bryce Hanvey
Bryce Hanvey

Alot of replacing jobs with foreign workers at lower wages going on in the last 8 -10 years and they don't pay state taxes.

Mike Ouimette
Mike Ouimette

I can relate, moving to Nashville was probably the best decision we made. Jobs are plentiful with pay and opportunity. The only flaw are the roads and drivers...

Andre Maxwell
Andre Maxwell

No, everyone is just as ignorant as you in thinking stuff like that.

Phillip Noble
Phillip Noble

Part of it has to do with the influx of new Georgia residents to work in the booming film and television industry.

ElectLady Precious
ElectLady Precious

I think they need to define middle class before we can really assess the problem.

Tonya Martin
Tonya Martin

They are just now noticing that people are leaving???

Jarrad Bowes
Jarrad Bowes

Pretty sure this is a nationwide problem

Harvey Andrews
Harvey Andrews

Yes because they are sick and tired of these hip hop thugs who will kill and Rob anybody

Reeco Banner
Reeco Banner

Yeah they grew and raised rent but actually lowered wages made more money in Atlanta in the 90s that place been dead.

Jason Cornwell
Jason Cornwell

I work 50 to 60 hours a week for a good company that pays a descent wage but landlords can't expect people to afford a simple three bedroom/two bath house for $1000 to $1500 per month. Just ain't worth it.

Nancy Dreitlein
Nancy Dreitlein

The rate of pay in Atlanta is stuck in the 90's. It's awful.

Linda Campbell
Linda Campbell

I know I'm going to get a lot of negative feedback for what I'm about to say but I'm going to say it! I know for a fact, I have witnessed the practice of manufacturer owners in metro Atlanta area hiring illegal migrant workers paying them ten dollars a hour cash and paying their legal company employee that has to punch the clock and pay taxes twelve to fourteen dollars a hours, now who's getting screwed here? With that being said, why would a company pay a decent wage when they can get by with hiring illegal workers paying under the table? In my opinion the jobs are here, the money is here, something has to be done with these employers and their illegal hiring practices. Clean up the manufacturing industry bring a little ICE to cool them down and you would be surprised how many jobs would be available in the metro Atlanta area.

Jason Davis
Jason Davis

This is false. there are an abundance of middle class jobs with competitive pay. The real problem is a lack of skilled applicants. Most are content with a job at Mickey -Ds drawing food stamps opposed to getting their hands dirty, and doing some hard work for that ¨good pay¨.

John Washington
John Washington

But hey, look at the bright side. Our CEO's are able to give themselves incredible pay packages now that are dumping those pesky workers from the payroll.

RantNRave
RantNRave

"This begs to ask, who in hell is Donald Trump.."


@Peachs


A fraud and fraud is the son of greed.


"Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing the members of the American public for suckers: he gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat. His domestic policies would lead to recession; his foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president, and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill." - MITT ROMNEY



rimsky
rimsky

Bernie is getting his say so about the Democrat party platform.  This a good thing.

King_of_Kolob
King_of_Kolob

@rimsky Bernie is not a Democrat. He's an independent that caucuses with the Democrats so they DNC will not bend to please him. He knew from the get go that he could never win as an independent. 

Peachs
Peachs

I was watching the Burn's thing on the west, and he was historically showing the importance of water in LA, Cal. A city meets it level and usually that level is how much water it has. 


Here in Georgia we have the water, but not the organization to take advantage of what God has given us. Isn't that the way it seems to be?  Those of us who are blessed, may not have the mental ability to figure out how to use that blessing. 

St Simons he-ne-ha
St Simons he-ne-ha

yep. the limiting factor here is brains. See why they want their constitchunceh to be free of shame?

Dåemeôn Hôlmës
Dåemeôn Hôlmës

People need to properly define middle-class. And where it begins and ends. Before we can have a serious discussion about this.

Peachs
Peachs

"Kenneth Starr, whose pursuit of Mr. Clinton in the 1990s helped bring a new intensity to partisan warfare, thinks it’s time to move past the “unpleasantness” of Mr. Clinton’s scandals."


One thing these people should have going for them ,is they have been vetted and investigated so many times, they got calluses. 


This begs to ask, who in hell is Donald Trump..

Peachs
Peachs

@foo2u I was a banker in my other life, and noticed a lot of paper dragons, who acted like they had money, married often, as the wives realized this ain't what I signed up for and the businesses went bankrupted with the paper dragon trying to support his lies. 

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

@Peachs Yet Kenneth Starr is mum about the violence on Baylor's campus..

omark
omark

With 159 counties, Georgia is 2nd only to Texas. That’s a lot of independent little fiefdoms, to knit together, if comprehensive regional planning is called for. Add to mix all the new cities that have incorporated over the last decade, and you have a pretty good recipe for serious gridlock.

By contrast, Colorado is a much bigger state with just 64 counties. You also don’t have the black city surrounded by white suburbs thing to deal with. We’re at war with our neighbors. In Denver, they’re puffing on their peace pipes, and planning for the future. If we don’t find a way to set aside our differences, and pull together, we’re going to be left in dirt.

There is a way out of our dilemma, we just have to remember that we’re the city too busy to hate.

I’m not optimistic on this one. Prejudice before progress seems to be the new motto. 

omark
omark

@Peachs @omark If Pro is the opposite of Con, what's the opposite of congress?

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

@omark i agree, the prejudice exhibited in the city of Atlanta is shameful.

Peachs
Peachs

@omark excellent point, lots of big hat, no cattle, people in this state. 

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