Letters to the EditorNews

It’s Time to Tackle Racially-Driven Economic Disparities in Athens

As a concerned Athens citizen, it came to my attention that extreme racially-driven economic disparities exist within our community. For example, the University of Georgia reported that in Athens, 12.5 percent of white families live in poverty, compared to 32.1 percent of black families and 38.2 percent of Hispanic families.

Additionally, the median income in Athens is $33,846, with whites having the highest median income at $39,097. For African Americans and Hispanics it is $25,269 and $26,705, respectively.

Also, 19.7 percent of Athenian families make less than $10,000 per year. However, only 17.6 percent of white families make less than $10,000 per year, compared to 24.9 percent of African American families and 19.2 percent of Hispanic families.  

These racial inequalities increase further for female-headed homes, as 29.4 percent of white female-headed families lived in poverty, compared to 50.5 percent of African American female-headed families and 49.6 percent of Hispanic female-headed families.  

Based upon these statistics, racial disparities in income levels clearly exist in Athens, which promotes a social structure that disadvantages its minority members. Poverty overall is disproportionately higher for all groups living in Athens than the national average. Additionally, only three out of the 159 counties in Georgia have a higher percentage of people living in poverty. Poverty is pervasive in Athens, the home of the University of Georgia, the first state-chartered university in the U.S. It appears that the University of Georgia prioritizes the needs of a transient student population to the detriment of its permanent residents, and particularly those belonging to a minority.

During a recent gathering of community stakeholders, Harry Sims, the Athens-Clarke County commissioner for East Athens, declared, “We don’t have one Athens, but we are going to get there and we are going to do it together,” alluding directly to the racially driven barriers existing within the Athens community. Broderick Flanigan of Flanigan’s Portrait Studio spoke to me about how racism and inequality have been plaguing East Athens for decades. Both he and Sims contend that in order to mitigate the economic and racial disparities evident in Athens, all community stakeholders must work together, to ensure social justice.

Now is the time for the University of Georgia and other business entrepreneurs to invest in the whole community, not simply its student population. Let’s stop the rhetoric about our poverty and do something about it. The time is now!