By any measure – median income, average wage, cost-of-living to income ratio, education, child poverty, healthcare, the statistics of persistent poverty in Athens-Clarke County are absolutely shocking and shameful. We have one of the worst inequality coefficients in the nation. The highest poverty rate in Georgia. The statistics are so numerous, I’d like to direct you to this data page by the OneAthens campaign. The OneAthens campaign as part of the Partners for a Prosperous Athens began in the 2000s to take a comprehensive approach to solving the issue. They have done an incredible job at defining and researching the problem and coming up with real, tangible recommendations that can help tackle the problem of poverty in Athens-Clarke. Their research and recommendations are much to comprehensive for me to summarize here – but please read up on their recommendations to the Commissioners. With my little experience in Athens, here’s a few of my observations about on the politics of poverty.
-Though there is much support for the cause in the abstract, many of the particular programs encounter resistance in ACC when they come before the Commission -There is innate tension in a comprehensive approach – especially when money is tight and projects have to be prioritized. This problem got played out (and will come up again) with the new jail
-To put insert a business cliche, ‘to make money, you have to spend money.’ To get the self-sufficient development that we need, we need to pay for it with money that we don’t have, and that we won’t have until that development comes. We aren’t allowed to run a deficit, and we are pursuing this project pretty much on our own (no help from the State). So again, the problem is in the priorities
–To bring in the County vs. City deal again, poverty is mostly visible in the City, while County residents mainly just see their rising property tax bill – and lack of sewer access.
The biggest and best solution is a major diversification of our economy away from servicing UGA to a more productive and economically sustainable City and County.