October 12, 2013

Dalton lags nation in household income

Charles Oliver

— The Dalton metro area ranks near the bottom of the nation in terms of median household income, according to the Census Bureau.

The agency’s American Community Survey found that in 2012 the metro area, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties, had a median income of $32,858, compared to a national median income of $51,371. That placed Dalton 10th from the bottom among U.S. metro areas.

“Unfortunately, I’m not surprised by that,” said Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce President Brian Anderson. “The recession hit Dalton harder and lasted longer here than in many other parts of the country. We not only lost a lot of jobs, we lost an extremely large amount of overtime income.”

Dalton’s unemployment rate more than doubled from 5.3 percent in December 2007 to 11.7 percent in December 2008 and peaked at 13.6 percent in March 2009. It stood at 10.3 percent in August.

Nine of the 10 metro areas with the lowest median incomes were in the South. But Robert Culp, assistant professor of economics at Dalton State College, said the census income numbers are a bit misleading because they don’t appear to adjust for the cost of living.

“Dalton has a dramatically lower cost of living than much of the rest of the nation,” he said. “We are 339 out of 362 (metro) areas, giving us one of the lowest costs of living out of all these (metro) areas.”

This year, separate rankings by Sperling’s BestPlaces and Wall Street Cheat Sheet named Dalton one of the least expensive places in the United States to live.

“I guess that it might be easier to live on a low income in Dalton than on a medium income in New York or Los Angeles,” said Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Babb. “I don’t know about those studies. But I do know that we have 10 percent unemployment and too many people living near or below the poverty level.”

Babb noted that the commissioners have been working with the Dalton-Whitfield Joint Development Authority to help bring more companies here with tax incentives and the creation of an industrial park.

“We can’t make someone get the education and skills they need to get a job in this economy. We can’t start new businesses and create new jobs. There’s only a limited number of jobs we can provide. But we can try to create the environment where businesses can grow, where they want to locate, and that’s what we are trying to do,” he said.