Originally created 10/01/97

Georgia incomes smaller



WASHINGTON - Family incomes are falling in Georgia, another signal of what economists say is a cooling off of what once was a red-hot state economy.

But incomes in South Carolina are taking off, a trend that could see the Palmetto State catch up with the national average in a few years.

Georgia's median household income during the past two years averaged $33,801, down from an average of $34,210 for the two-year period covering 1994 and 1995, according to figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau. That 1.2 percent decrease was the 11th worst showing in the nation and the worst in the Southeast.

But the median household income in South Carolina shot up during that same period by 5 percent, the sixth-highest growth rate in the country and second only to Kentucky in the Southeast. Median household income during the past two years averaged $32,297, up more than $1,500 from the $30,764 reported during 1994-95.

After several years of glowing numbers, the downward trend in Georgia is the combined result of the end of the Olympics boom period and better economic conditions in surrounding states, said Donald Ratajczak, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University.

Dr. Ratajczak said many of those who are moving into Georgia are either unemployed people who still believe they can get a better shake in a new location or parents wishing to establish residence in the state to qualify their children for HOPE scholarships. Those new residents tend to be willing to accept lower paying jobs, contributing to the downward trend in family incomes, he said.

Doug Woodward, director of the University of South Carolina's Division of Business Research, said that state's rosy numbers were surprising.

"We've been attracting a considerable amount of capital investment," he said. "But it usually takes a while for that to translate to income levels."

Mr. Woodward said many of the jobs created in South Carolina during the past three years - including the BMW plant in the Greenville-Spartanburg area - are higher paying than the jobs the state has been losing, primarily from the closing of textile plants.

Poverty rates in Georgia and South Carolina also are moving in a different direction, according to the Census Bureau. Georgia has experienced a slight increase in the percentage of residents living in poverty, from an average of 13.1 percent during 1994 and 1995 to 13.5 percent during the past two years.

South Carolina's poverty rate, while still higher than Georgia's, fell from an average of 16.9 percent for 1994-95 to 16.5 percent for 1995-96, according to the census report.