ROSWELL, Ga. — Financial vulnerability has been an emerging, growing issue in North Fulton as affordability and the middle class has shrunk, according to representatives of the North Fulton Poverty Task Force.
The representatives spoke at the Aug. 8 Roswell Rotary Club meeting at Roswell Area Park to offering a look at North Fulton’s “invisible neighbors.”
Suburban poverty has been growing nationwide, but metro Atlanta is among the highest with 129 percent poverty growth in five years, said North Fulton Poverty Task Force executive team member Nancy Diamond.
The reason for growth, she said, is a disparity between wage earnings and rent over time.
“Wage growth is not keeping up with housing costs and cost of living,” Diamond said.
To illustrate the point, she compared numbers from an MIT study estimating Fulton County’s cost of living with average income numbers.
For a family of two adults and two children living in Fulton County, required annual income before taxes is nearly $65,000. The figure includes food, childcare, housing and transportation costs, but does not include any savings or medical emergency costs.
The North Fulton Poverty Task Force estimates that the number is even higher for North Fulton families, between $80,000-$90,000.
As for annual North Fulton income, the numbers don’t stack up, Diamond said.
About 36,000 North Fulton households make between $35,000-$75,000, and more than 24,000 North Fulton households make less than $35,000, she said. There are about 150,000 households in North Fulton County.
While these numbers do not reflect the federal poverty income level — $24,250 for a family of four — it’s a growing issue North Fulton can’t afford to ignore, Diamond said.
“This is a middle-class income that is not covering basic expenses,” she said. “What used to be considered middle income is now barely enough to live here. So, for the task force, it became clear that ‘poverty’ isn’t a title that covers what we’re seeing. We’ve become a task force focused on the growing financial vulnerability phenomenon.”
The employees being impacted by this belong to an essential workforce that includes healthcare support, teachers, first responders and service jobs, Diamond said. And the task force said they had several anecdotal examples of this issue.
A middle school teacher in the North Fulton area, for example, was recently found to have been sleeping and living out of his car, Diamond said.
This discrepancy between living costs and wage earnings has several consequences for North Fulton. One of the most visible impacts, Diamond said, is that 85 percent of people who work in Roswell come from outside the city, so they are all adding to traffic making their way here to work.
Additionally, the discrepancy means that local businesses have trouble finding and retaining workers, and the next generation cannot afford to live where they grew up, she added.
“We’ve seen businesses move to Georgia, to North Fulton, and quietly shift to other parts to improve retention,” Diamond said.
The North Fulton Poverty Task Force is looking at ways to combat the issue. And on Nov. 7, from 8 a.m.-1 p.m., it will host its inaugural community summit at Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church to discuss and develop ways to address the problem. The summit is free, but seats are limited, so attendees are asked to register.
For more information and to register for the summit, visit ourinvisibleneighbors.org.