A new report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute shows that while all workers suffered from The Great Recession, African Americans are still woefully behind whites in Georgia.
The report, titled "The State of Working Georgia 2012," found that the state's median annual wage fell more than $2,500 between 2010 and 2011, which was a steeper decline than in any other state.
It also found the gap between white workers and ethnic minorities steepened significantly. As of 2010, Caucasians in Georgia were out-earning African-Americans by more than $8,000 per year and Hispanics by more than $14,000 per year.
"This means that African-Americans were earning 77 cents on the dollar when compared to Caucasians, while Hispanics were earning 60 cents on the dollar," the report says.
The recession killed 338,500 jobs in Georgia, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Adding to the state's woes, in 2010 the percentage of employed Georgians between the ages of 25 and 54 was at its lowest since 1979 – 73 percent.
The state has since regained about 130,000, and Georgia's unemployment rate fell last month from 9 percent to 8.7 percent, after peaking above 10 percent earlier. Despite the modicum of good news, Georgia still has a rate noticeably higher unemployment than the national rate of 7.9 percent. That metric has been stubbornly high, outpacing the national average for 50 consecutive months.
The state has also suffered more than its neighbors. Georgia went from having a 3.7 percent unemployment rate in 2000, the fourth lowest rate in the South, to having the fourth highest rate - 10.7 percent – in 2010.
Georgia's number of underemployed workers spiked as well in the 2000s, rising from 6 to 18 percent.
Even worse for struggling working- and middle-class families in Georgia, income inequality in the state has gotten noticeably worse. Since 2000 average wages for the bottom 20 percent of earners stayed almost unchanged, moving from $19,540 in 2000 to $19,400 in 2010. Those at the top saw their pay increase by 15 percent during the same period, from $47,780 to $55,100.
Unfortunately this is not a new phenomenon. The past 30 years have been unkind to working and middle-class earners. Between 1980 and 2010 annual wages for the bottom 20 percent of workers increased by only $2,600, a 2.5 percent increase, while those for median earners increased by $6,240, an increase of only 4.1 percent. Those numbers pale in comparison to the $13,800 rise (10.4 percent increase) the top 20 percent of Georgians enjoyed over that span.
Georgia now ranks as the fifth poorest state in the country, says Wesley Tharpe, a policy analyst for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
"Everyone knows that the Great Recession had a huge impact on jobs," Tharpe notes. "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."
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.
"The persistent unemployment brought on by the recent economic crisis capped off a decade that had already been difficult on working Georgians," says the report, "and at a time when the state transformed from one of the South's strongest labor markets to one of its weakest."