Number below poverty line up
Incomes rise, along with poor

LAWRENCEVILLE - While Gwinnett County's median household income rose in 2006, so did its poverty levels, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday.

Gwinnett saw the number of people living below poverty level rise to 9.2 percent in the 2006 American Community Survey - a number that's still well below the Georgia average (14.7 percent) and the national average (13.3 percent), but is an increase from the county's 2005 poverty rate of 7.4 percent.

Gwinnett's poverty rate rose despite the state and national averages remaining fairly stagnant from 2005 to 2006.

One explanation for the increase in people living below the poverty line could be a lag between Gwinnett's image for having employment opportunities and the realities imposed by an economic slowdown, said Jeff Humphreys, director of the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth.

"Gwinnett has a great reputation as a good place to work and live, but when the economic growth slows down and people keep moving in, that may be when you see the poverty rate grow," Humphreys said.

Another reason Gwinnett's poverty rate may have increased while the state's did not is a slowdown in the housing sector, which has been a big part of the county's economy during its recent population boom, Humphreys said. The economic slowing that began in 2006 hit manufacturing and housing sectors the most, he added.

But the good news is that Gwinnett saw median household incomes increase to $63,189 in 2006 - a 2.9 percent increase from 2005. It was enough of an increase to move Gwinnett past Cobb County, which had a median household income of $62,423 in 2006.

"That's quite an achievement because Cobb has always set a high bar in terms of good jobs," Humphreys said. "It speaks very well to the quality of jobs being created."

Gwinnett ranked third in median household income out of the 10 metro Atlanta counties that are a part of the Atlanta Regional Commission. Fayette County had the highest median household income ($76,421) and Clayton County had the lowest ($41,021).

Gwinnett's median household income was also greater than the state ($46,832) and national ($48,451) medians in 2006.

Both the county government and Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce have taken strides to bring higher-paying jobs to the county over the past two years.

Gwinnett County created an economic analysis division in January 2006 to increase jobs and average wages in the county as well as strengthen its ability to compete for business expansions and relocations. County commissioners also voted in that same month to allow tax incentives to certain companies that are looking to relocate.

Two companies, Hewlett-Packard and Meggitt Defense Systems FATS/Caswell, have taken advantage of tax incentives to move to Gwinnett, bringing jobs that have estimated salaries in the $60,000 range.

The chamber has created an extensive marketing campaign known as Partnership Gwinnett aimed at bringing more high paying jobs to the county over the next five years.

While these efforts are aimed at creating new jobs now, Humphreys said he believes the county can expect to see similar trends in income and poverty when the U.S. Census Bureau releases data again next year.

"The rate of economic growth will probably remain subdued through the year," Humphreys said. "But I don't think we'll go into a recession."