During a late afternoon shift change at Pilgrim’s Pride in Gainesville, scores of poultry processing plant workers pass each other like commuters during rush hour at New York’s Grand Central Station.
The workers are white, black, Latino and Asian.
Some are newcomers to this country from Latin America, Asia and even Africa. It is clear by just exchanging words with them that some speak little or no English at all.
At the poultry processing plant, they can get by. Some will stay there until they learn English and can aspire to a better job.
Despite their ethnic differences, these assembly line workers have a common bond. They are part of the county’s working poor who get by paycheck to paycheck hoping their car doesn’t break or they don’t get sick.
But data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows it’s the minorities who are more likely to be in poverty — by more than double in the case of blacks and Latinos in Hall County.
Who is in poverty in Hall?
30.9 percent of Latinos
28 percent of blacks
15 percent of Asians
11.8 percent whites
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Fassil Fanta, an associate professor of economics at Brenau University, said there are multiple factors that could account for the disparity in poverty rates among races — including demographics, educational attainment and labor market conditions.
For instance, Fanta said minorities in economically poor neighborhoods tend to have more children.
“A larger family size increases the dependency ratio, which increases the likelihood of poverty among minorities,” Fanta said. “Living in regions with a high poverty rate also exacerbates the problem due to lack of economic opportunities.”
Fanta said blacks and Latinos are more likely to live in a family led by a single woman, which he said might contribute to the poverty rate gap among the races.
“Married couple families have less risk of poverty compared to single mother families,” Fanta said.
Fanta said the high poverty trend among minorities could be reversed with initiatives such as supporting minority small businesses by providing grants and other financial support; promoting entrepreneurship among blacks and Latinos in Hall County; creating a favorable business environment for economic growth and job creation in Hall County; finding ways to help single moms attain better education that could open the way to a high-paying job; and providing specialized training and incentives for individuals and families to increase labor force participation.
Median family income by race
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Paying the bills and providing for his family has been a struggle for 36-year-old Jimmy Parr as he recovers from a broken forearm that has kept him from working at the Fieldale Farms poultry processing plant in Gainesville.
As he collects workers compensation insurance, Parr, who is white, is frustrated. He’d rather be working than applying for assistance with the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.
Parr, who moved to Gainesville from Buford several years ago because he thought he’d have more opportunities to find work, said he needs assistance to make ends meet with rent and food.
“I feel like I’m young enough to learn a trade and do something that pays better,” Parr said. “I’d like to get into something that offers me and my family a future.”
Tony Gholston, 47, said he had his own business doing construction work but gave it up after he got sidetracked by personal problems.
Gholston, who is black, said he was already having trouble competing for contracts because he was being undercut by contractors paying less to Hispanic immigrants.
“I don’t have anything against Hispanics,” Gholston said. “They have to make a living too.”
For now, Gholston is just happy to have turned his life around after getting caught up in circumstances that had dragged him down. He did not go into the details of his circumstances.
Gholston said he’s been working at a local restaurant while he hunts for a better job.
“I’m not going to let a job consume my life,” Gholston said. “I’m going to let God consume my life.”
Ramiro de Leon of Guatemala said he came to Gainesville from north of Tampa, Fla., because he heard from friends of the opportunity to make some money working in “las polleras’’ — the term Latinos use for the poultry processing plants.
The 34-year-old de Leon said he’s single and that he came to the United States to work. De Leon said every chance he gets he wires money to his parents to help them and his younger siblings in Champerico, a port town in southwestern Guatemala that faces the Pacific Ocean.
“They need my help,” the wiry Guatemalan said in Spanish. “I have Guatemalan friends here who have children and want to stay in this country. I want to go back to Guatemala.”
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs tracks by race assistance offered by the state for housing.
DCA said it is currently providing Housing Choice Vouchers to 191 participants in Hall County, of which 55 percent are going to help blacks and 42 percent to whites.
DCA spokeswoman MaryBrown Sandys said eligibility for the vouchers is based on annual gross income and family size, and it’s limited to U.S. citizens. However, she said some noncitizens who have eligible immigration status and pass a criminal background check also qualify for help.
Shanna Cotton, the community resource coordinator at Ninth District Opportunity, a private nonprofit corporation that offers help to the working poor with making rent, paying utilities and feeding their families, said the need is real and touches people of all stripes.
“It’s everybody. People need food. They need jobs,” Cotton said. “We help people get back on their feet.”