Poverty Data

Athens-Clarke County: Over Time

While the nation and state's poverty rates have declined, Clarke County's rates have actually increased.

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The Geography of Poverty in ACC


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Income Distribution in ACC


There are sharp contrasts in how income is distributed in Clarke County and Georgia/United States.

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Myths & Realities

  • Myth: The federal poverty threshold is enough to get by.
  • Reality: The official thresholds used by the federal government to determine "need" in 2005 were $10,160 for an individual and $19,806 for a family of four. However, local costs of living estimates for Athens-Clarke County range from $29,709 to $37,962, one and a half to nearly double the official poverty measure.
  • Myth: Poor people are lazy.
  • Reality: 60 percent of poor families in Georgia reported earning wages during the last census period. That number increases to 65 percent for the families living in poverty in Athens-Clarke County.
  • Myth: There is a large government welfare support system.
  • Reality: Welfare reform has reduced the number of people receiving aid from the federal government, and Georgia regulations of welfare recipients are more stringent than federal laws.
  • Myth: The UGA student population skews statistics on poverty and other socio-demographic factors.
  • Reality: The effects of the UGA student population are minimal; even when the 18-24 age population is excluded from the analysis, the poverty rate for Athens-Clarke County is 23.5 percent.


Some other facts about Athens-Clarke County

  • ACC lags behind the state of Georgia on many educational measures.
  • ACC is a "housing-stress" county.
  • Weekly wages for ACC are $104 less than Georgia's.
  • $17,123 per capita income.
  • $28,403 median household income.

Where does that leave us?

  • 1 in 4 kids live in poverty.
  • ACC's 50 percent poverty rate (16.8 percent) is the highest in Georgia.
  • 39.3 percent, or 36,000 citizens, live below the 150 percent poverty rate.
  • ACC's poverty rate is the 5th highest in the nation.

What do we know?

  • The poor face challenges in acquiring marketable skills.
  • Where people live matters.
  • Childcare options are limited.
  • Healthcare = emergency room.
  • A culture of poverty persists.
  • The poverty "industry".
  • The poor are one disaster from chaos.
  • We know there is poverty of:
    • Wealth
    • Knowledge
    • Self-worth
    • Hope

A Profile of Athens-Clarke County
Facts about Poverty and Other Socio-Economic Data
in Athens-Clarke County1


  • Athens-Clarke County is one of Georgia's 91 persistently poor counties, as determined in the 2002 publication of the Study on Persistent Poverty in the South2.
  • In Clarke County, the poverty rate is 28.3 percent, which equates to over 26,000 Clarke County residents living in poverty, and nearly 11,000 households. That is the 8th highest rate in the State of Georgia (out of 159 counties), and more than double the state's rate of 13.0 percent.
  • A more realistic indicator of the poverty that exists in Athens-Clarke County is 150 percent of the federal poverty threshold. At the 150 percent poverty rate, 39.3 percent of Clarke County residents are poor -- equating to over 36,000 individuals. That is nearly double the state's 150 percent poverty rate of 21.6 percent.
  • At the lower end of poverty (50 percent of the federal poverty threshold), 16.8 percent of Athens-Clarke County residents live below half the poverty rate, compared to only 6.1 percent for the state's population. This measure ranks Clarke County the highest in Georgia. In real terms, Clarke County's 50 percent poverty rate translates into nearly 16,000 individuals living below half the poverty rate. Consequently, Athens-Clarke County's 50 percent poverty rate of 16.8 percent is higher than the State of Georgia's 100 percent poverty rate of 13.0 percent.
  • It is reasonable to suggest that students account for some of the poverty population in Athens-Clarke County. However, even when the student population is accounted for, the poverty rate for the county remains 23.5 percent, which is 81 percent higher than the state rate.
  • Students do not account for the high child poverty in Athens-Clarke County either. Children are disproportionately affected by poverty in Athens-Clarke County as 25.2 percent of the population under 18 years old lives in poverty, compared to 16.7 percent for the state as a whole. That equates to nearly 5,000 poor children in the community.
  • Contrary to the myth that poor people do not work, 65 percent of all families that live in poverty are working in Athens-Clarke County. That is 12.1 percent greater than the State of Georgia's average of 58 percent.

Income, Wages and Occupations

  • The underlying issue with income and wages in Athens-Clarke County deals with the influences of the student population. Specifically, the student population skews income and wages downward. Common sense suggests that it is the case in the Athens-Clarke County labor market that students are in low-wage service and retail jobs that might otherwise be filled by permanent county residents. Thus, the student population influence not only drives down wages but also drives up poverty rates.
  • Consequently, per capita income for Athens-Clarke County is $17,123, which is more than $4,000 less than Georgia's average of $21,154. If the gap in per capita income between ACC and the state were closed, the result is an additional $474 million to the local economy.
  • More telling is the income deficit of those living in poverty in Athens-Clarke County. If we could somehow eliminate the income deficit of those in poverty in Athens-Clarke County (e.g., simply bring everyone's income up to the federal poverty threshold), families would realize an additional income of $21 million, or about $7,115 per family.
  • Median household income for Athens-Clarke County is $28,403, which is only 68 percent of the national median ($41,994), 67 percent of the state median ($42,433), and 75 percent, 82 percent, and 86 percent of the medians for Savannah ($37,752) Columbus ($34,798), and Augusta ($33,086), respectively.
  • At the lower end of household income, the proportion of households with incomes less than $20,000 for Athens-Clarke County is 37.7 percent, which is 72 percent greater than the proportion for the State of Georgia at only 21.9 percent. Conversely, the proportion of those households with incomes on the upper end ($75,000 or more) is far less for Athens-Clarke County than it is for the state. Specifically, the proportion of households with incomes greater than $75,000 in Athens-Clarke is 13.6 percent, which is 63 percent less than the state's proportion.
  • Wage data for ACC reveal that average weekly wages are $572, which is $104 less than the State of Georgia's average of $676. Projecting lost income from that sub-par weekly wage rate indicates that an additional $6 million could be added to the local economy each week if ACC's rate were that of the state's.
  • The median hourly wage rate for the Athens-Clarke County MSA3 is $11.75, with the mean hourly wage rate at $14.63, suggesting that the distribution of wages is skewed in the direction of the lower end of wages. Not surprisingly, the lowest mean hourly wage rate was that of food preparation and serving related occupations at $7.99/hour -- well below the mean for the area as a whole ($14.63).
  • According to the Georgia Department of Labor, the Athens MSA average unemployment rate for 2004 was 3.4 percent (91,943 employed -- 95,181 labor force). That rate bests the state and national averages for the same time period (4.6 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively).
  • "Service-producing" occupations comprise 54.2 percent of all occupations in the Athens MSA for 2003, with retail trade, healthcare and social services, and accommodation and food services comprising the bulk of "service-producing" jobs. Manufacturing occupations comprise 12.5 percent of all occupations in ACC, with "food manufacturing" occupations (e.g. chicken processing plant jobs) comprising the largest percentage of those manufacturing occupations.
  • Conclusively, this low unemployment rate, coupled with median wages nearly $3.00 less than mean wages and an over-reliance on service-producing occupations, suggests that the Athens economy is not without jobs, but that the types of jobs ACC has to offer do not pay wages high enough to sustain self-sufficient families.


  • Athens-Clarke County lags behind the State of Georgia as a whole on a variety of educational factors. The following shows how ACC compares to Georgia in graduation rates, dropout rates, absenteeism, 8th grade CRCT scores, 11th grade high school graduation test scores, SAT scores, and ACT scores.

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  • Those lagging K-12 statistics translate into an adult population with low educational attainment levels. For example, 19.0 percent of Clarke County's adult population (25 years and over) has not completed high school. That equates to nearly 10,000 county residents over the age of 25 without high school diplomas. If those 10,000 residents somehow could obtain a high school diploma, an estimated $70 million could be added to the local economy in the form of personal income. If that same adult population were to obtain a college degree, approximately $288 million could be added to the local economy.
  • Not all the news is bad for Athens-Clarke County. The percentage of graduates eligible for the HOPE Scholarship is higher for Athens-Clarke County (64.3 percent) than it is for the State of Georgia (62.0 percent).

Housing Stock

  • There are 42,106 total housing units in Athens-Clarke County, 39,709 (94.3 percent) of which are occupied.Of those 39,709 occupied housing units, not surprisingly only 42 percent are owner-occupied while the remaining 58 percent are renter-occupied. When compared to the other 158 counties in the rest of the State of Georgia, with the exception of one county (Chattahoochee), Athens-Clarke County has the lowest percentage of owner-occupied housing units, and conversely, the highest percentage of renter-occupied housing units as a percentage of total housing units.
  • The median home value in Athens-Clarke County is $111,300. Using the 30 percent rule7, annual income of $33,390 is required to afford a home of this value, which equates to an hourly wage of about $16.05/hour working 40 hours/week. Consequently, approximately 21,000 households in Athens-Clarke County do not have incomes that would support monthly homeowner costs for a home of this value.
  • Even for an $80,000 home in Athens-Clarke County, where an individual would have to make an annual income of $24,000 to afford a monthly homeowner costs without paying more than 30 percent, approximately 17,250 households could not afford to own this home.
  • On the rental side in Athens-Clarke County, the average monthly rental costs for renter-occupied housing units are $540. If we use the same 30 percent rule for renters, there are nearly 13,000 renter households in Athens-Clarke County that pay more than 30 percent of income on rent. That is 56 percent of total renter households, and 32 percent of all households.
  • Athens-Clarke County's housing stock ranks it as one of the Economic Research Service "housing stress" counties.8



1All data are taken from U.S. Census Bureau, unless otherwise noted.
2The Study on Persistent Poverty in the South defines a county as a "persistent poverty" county if the following criteria are met: it has experienced poverty rates in the nation's top two quartiles during 2000 and during 1980 and/or 1990; it is not part of the service area for the Appalachian Regional Commission or Delta Regional Authority; it is not a metropolitan county (100,000+ pop.); and it is contiguous to other persistent poverty counties most typical of the historic Black Belt.
3The Athens-Clarke County includes Clarke, Madison, Oconee, and Oglethorpe counties. These wage data come from the May 2004 Metropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
4Graduation/dropout rate data and test score data were obtained from the Governor's Office of Student Achievement 2004-2005 Annual Report Card. Educational attainment data are for the population 25 years and over. Thus, the impact from UGA's student population on educational attainment statistics is minimal.
5The national average SAT score is 1020.
6The national average ACT score is 20.9.
7Housing is considered affordable when mortgage/rent payments do not exceed 30% of gross household income.
8The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies counties as "housing stress" counties if 30 percent or more of the county's housing units meets one or more of the following criteria: lacked complete plumbing, lacked complete kitchens, paid 30 percent or more for owner costs or rent, or had more than one person per room.



Contact Information

J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development
The University of Georgia
1240 South Lumpkin Street
Athens, GA 30602
Voice: (706) 542-1108
Fax: (706) 542-1744