It is a case of the have and the have not. Of all major American cities, Atlanta now has the widest income gap between rich and poor. U.S census numbers have given the city a new label that’s nothing to be proud of, but puts into perspective how many Georgians are struggling to make ends meet.
“I’ve been out of work almost two years,” says Marcia Tolbert. “Most places tell me I’m over qualified. Others say I’ve been out of work for too long. It’s like they keep kicking you when you are down.”
Tolbert is a name and a face to a trend that is unfolding all over the county. The recession that began in 2007 took a steep toll, with only a few places spared from a rise in jobless rates and a decline in incomes. Nearly one-in-six Americans live in poverty.
Those sobering numbers cross ever state and ethic line, leaving a debilitating mark on the nation’s children. Sixteen million of them are growing up in poverty, that’s 40 percent of all African-American children and 37 percent of Hispanic children, according to the U.S. Census.
Increased anger over massive gap between rich and poor has partially fueled the momentum behind the Occupy Movement. Protesters identify themselves as “The 99 Percent”, the majority who has suffered from “the greed and corruption of the wealthiest 1 percent of America. Occupy supporter David Rinds added: “It’s a case of the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer.I’m doing ok, but I stand with Occupy Atlanta for all those who aren’t ok.”
The Census concludes the most income-segregated areas tend to be found in the suburbs. In 2000, for example, 76 percent of the Atlanta region’s poor lived in the suburbs. In 2008, 85 percent did. Only five U.S. suburbs notched a greater rise in their percentage of poor people during that time period. All that happened before the recession tore a gaping hole in metro Atlanta’s financial fabric.
Since then Georgia launched a program called Georgia Works to assist the growing number of unemployed. The program, which matches job seekers with companies for training, inspired the national job training program President Obama proposes to reform and extend unemployment benefit for millions of Americans. Critics contend the program’s benefits may be overblown. Georgians like Marcia Tolbert ,who consider it their final option to support their families, say the program is a start. “We need all the help we can get. It’s hard out here.”
Other cities with the largest gaps between highs and low income are Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Gainesville, in Florida; Athens, Georgia; New York; Dallas, Texas; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. West Jordan, Utah, had the smallest gap; it has a population of 101,727. Thornton, Colorado, and Norwalk, California, followed.