Job, population changes compound recession effects Urban woes invade Baltimore County

April 14, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

A chart that accompanied an article about the Baltimore County economy in Sunday's editions of The Sun incorrectly reported the number of employees hired by Becton Dickinson in the 12-month period ending Dec. 31, 1990. The correct number is 125.

When CuTronics Inc. closed its doors last April, Cathy Lane lost the job she had held for 11 years and the way of life it financed.

She moved back into her parents' Owings Mills home, began collecting unemployment, stopped taking long trips in her Chevy Blazer and cut back on personal expenses, from pricy restaurant meals to expensive shampoos.


"I have to save to go out to eat, I have to save if I want to go out to the movies," said Miss Lane, 33.

With a recession that has led to layoffs at industrial giants like Westinghouse Electric Corp., Bendix Corp. and Martin Marietta Corp., many in Baltimore County face similar straits.

The county's unemployment rate has risen steadily for the past two years, from 3.8 percent in January 1989 to 4.2 percent in January 1990 and 5.5 percent this January, state figures show.

But the problem isn't just unemployment.

The recession has worked its way down through the county's economic chain, causing unprecedented increases in the welfare rolls and in the numbers of people needing emergency shelter.

Since July 1989, the number of welfare cases in the county has risen an alarming 30 percent, with a record 15,000 men, women and children qualifying for Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Welfare increases are a statewide trend, but they are most pronounced in Baltimore County.

"We've got more people coming in for help than any time in our history, any time probably since the Depression," said Camille B. Wheeler, director of the county Department of Social Services.

To help the homeless, the county spent $150,000 for emergency shelter in 1989 and $500,000 last year to shelter an unprecedented 1,605 people, said Maureen Robinson, who coordinates homeless programs. This year, the county is rejecting 40 requests a month for emergency shelter because of limited space, she said.

The Community Assistance Network, a non-profit agency that provides shelter for the homeless, will spend $20,000 in 18 days to shelter the homeless; two years ago, that would have been enough for a year, said Robert Gajdys, director of the network.

"I can't begin to tell you how serious the magnitude of the problem is these days," he said.

Social workers, academics, economists and urban experts say Baltimore County's rising unemployment rate, homelessness and welfare problems can be traced to the economy.

But they also say the county's economic woes may be due in part to long-term changes that are giving it a more urban profile.

Rapid growth in outlying areas and the aging of older communities that ring the Baltimore Beltway have meant more urban problems, such as an increasing crime rate, more teen-age pregnancies and a rising number of single-parent families.

"The county's becoming more of an urban place," said Dunbar Brooks, a county school board member and a demographer with the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments.

"People usually focus on the city, but there's poor in the county, ++ too," he said.

While well-heeled professionals have snapped up posh new homes in Hunt Valley and Owings Mills in recent years, most of the new jobs created in the county over the past decade have been low-paying service jobs.

Since 1980, the county has gained 33,000 service jobs while losing 9,400 higher-paying manufacturing jobs, according to the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments.

Michael Conte, a University of Baltimore economist, said such manufacturing jobs are a key to economic stability.

The increase in service jobs made the county particularly vulnerable to an economic downtown because it attracted low-skilled wage earners who would be the first workers fired in a recession, he said.

"People came out to Baltimore County to take jobs, largely service jobs, and now the jobs are no longer there," said Dr. Conte, director of the university's Center for Business and Economic Studies.

Signs of Baltimore County's economic crunch are everywhere:

* Job fairs at local colleges are attracting job-seekers in record numbers. A March 21 job fair at Dundalk Community College brought out 266 candidates, an increase of roughly 50 percent over the March 1990 fair.

* A listing by the Baltimore County Economic Development Commission of the number of layoffs in the county details the closing of 29 restaurants, retail outlets and manufacturing plants from July 1989 to March 1991.

County officials say the number is unprecedented.

* At the welfare office in Catonsville, office manager Jewel Blackwell finds applicants lined up outside when she arrives for work at 7:45 a.m.

She says the waiting room is generally the most crowded it has been in 10 years. Since January 1990, the Catonsville welfare caseload has risen 36 percent and is now 1,200 cases a month.

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