WASHINGTON Georgians live closer to the financial edge than anyone else in the nation, and the danger extends beyond the poor to the middle class, according to a newly published in-depth analysis.
The study by the Washington-based Corporation for Enterprise Development ranked Georgia dead last in terms of the financial security of its residents, based on factors such as their high debt load, lack of savings and assets, and the prevalence of personal bankruptcies.
"This is not just people with a low-end job or people on unemployment," said Kasey Wiedrich, a senior researcher for the nonprofit educational organization, which promotes economic opportunities for people with low incomes. "A lot of these families make a decent living, but they don't have savings and they're just getting by."
The report reflected the devastating blows that have struck a state where unemployment exceeds the national average and major economic engines -- real estate, banking and home construction -- aren't firing on all cylinders. The state ranked in the bottom fifth of states in several categories: poverty-level income (42nd in the country), bankruptcies (50th), poor credit (48th), overdue debt (48th), and households with neither a savings nor a checking account (49th).
Georgia households' average net worth of $48,425 fell far below the national average of $70,600 -- yet one more indicator that even amid signs of an economic rebound, many Georgians' finances are precarious.
In addition to measuring the financial security of each state's residents, the study's authors challenged states to enact policies and programs to shore up areas in which they were weak. In Georgia, calls for additional government intervention are apt to meet stiff resistance, with opinions often split along partisan lines. Policy analysts across the political spectrum noted that few if any of the solutions proposed by the group, which identifies itself as progressive, are on the table here.
For example, pointing to Georgia's high percentage of uninsured households, the study recommended that the state make more families eligible for Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides medical care to low-income families. Knowledgeable Georgians said the only way that will occur here is if the federal health care overhaul survives an upcoming review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
That would spell trouble for Georgia, said Kelly McCutchen, president of the fiscally conservative Georgia Public Policy Foundation. "There's no need to increase government welfare programs," McCutchen said. "We need to expand job opportunities."
Gov. Nathan Deal's office declined to comment on the study.