'90 census figures show tempered prosperity

April 21, 1992|By James K. Bock | James K. Bock,Staff Writer

Marylanders worked and earned more at the dawn of the 1990s than a decade before, but they also paid a prettier penny for housing, newly released census figures show.

On the surface at least, the 1980s were years of general prosperity in Maryland as dual wage-earner families spurred an increase in income. Maryland household income rose by almost 16 percent (after inflation) from 1979 to 1989, according to the figures, which don't reflect the economic slide of the early 1990s. The poverty rate decreased across the board.

But families in the state needed to work more to try to keep pace with housing costs that rose even faster than income. Both homeowners and renters paid 30 percent to 40 percent more for housing after inflation.

Maryland women went to work in unprecedented numbers. Two-thirds of mothers with children under 6 were in the labor force by the end of the decade, a dramatic increase from the half that worked in 1980. Four of five mothers with older children worked.

"Families are having to work more hours to sustain a standard of living," said Michel A. Lettre, assistant director of the Maryland Office of Planning. "People at the lower end of the economic spectrum are really at best treading water."

The 1990 census figures, based on a sampling of one in six Maryland households, profile the state's people and their housing, education, work and income. Only statewide figures and data for Maryland's largest jurisdictions were released. No racial breakdown was available.

While 385,000 Marylanders were still considered poor, the poverty rate dipped from 9.8 percent in 1979 to 8.3 percent a decade later.

But the 1989 figures are a snapshot of the height of Maryland's prosperity, said Helen Szablya of the state Department of Human Resources. The number of people receiving benefits under Aid to Families with Dependent Childen, the state's largest welfare program, has jumped about 20 percent since then to 222,000, she said.

"According to our statistics, it's still on the increase. It's not leveling off," she said.

Welfare families were one of the few groups whose income declined over the decade. Their public assistance income was $3,915 in 1989, a dip of 2.9 percent after inflation.

The income gap between traditional families and families headed by women remained great. Households headed by women with children were almost five times as likely to be poor (income of $12,674 or less for a family of four in 1989). Fully 40 percent of single women with children under five were poor.

The gap between rich and poor jurisdictions also was wide. Howard County families' median income ($61,088) was more than double Baltimore families' ($28,217). More than a third of city children under five lived in poverty; only 4 percent did in Howard.

The disparity extended to education. Howard County residents were three times as likely as city dwellers to be college graduates -- and thus more prepared for the white-collar jobs that the Maryland economy produced in the 1980s.

The number of Marylanders in the work force shot up by more than half a million, due in part to women entering the job market. White-collar jobs grew and blue-collar occupations dwindled. More than 25,000 manufacturing jobs were lost.

The professional sector -- including accountants, architects, engineers and computer programmers -- grew rapidly. So did construction, real estate and sales personnel during the boom in homebuilding and the "malling" of suburban Maryland. Nearly a quarter of Marylanders worked for federal, state or local government, but growth in that area was sluggish.

The number of self-employed workers grew by 42 percent, in what the Maryland Office of Planning called "the beginnings of what may turn out to be a significant change in how households earn their income," as technology such as personal computers decentralizes work.

Marylanders sunk a lot of money into housing. More than 400,000 housing units were built in Maryland during the decade. Big houses with four and five bedrooms were in fashion, despite the shrinking size of the average household to 2.7 persons.

Affordable housing was scarce. More than half of renters and nearly 30 percent of homeowners had housing costs exceeding a quarter of their income, the traditional rule of thumb for budget-minded families.

Immigration changed the face of the state. As Hispanic and Asian immigrants poured into Maryland, particularly the Washington suburbs, the number of residents who don't speak English very well more than quadrupled to nearly 150,000.

But Baltimore's days as a magnet for immigrants may be over. More than eight times as many new immigrants moved to Montgomery County as to Baltimore, and Baltimore County had significantly more foreign-born residents than the city.

Census tidbits

The 1990 census produced many demographic tidbits. A sampling:

* Some 55,103 Maryland housing units (2.9 percent) had no telephone in 1990.

* Less than 1 percent of Marylanders, 32,596, lived on farms.

* More Marylanders worked for the federal government (286,695) than in manufacturing (254,944).

* Some 33,358 Maryland homes are heated with wood, 6,022 with coal or coke, and 498 with solar energy.

* Electricity has displaced fuel oil as the second largest home-heating fuel after natural gas.

* The census turned up more than 116,000 condominiums in the state, more than twice as many as in 1980.

* Nearly 275,000 Marylanders own their houses free and clear.

* More than 320,000 Maryland homes have three or more vehicles. About 215,000 have none.

* More Marylanders (1.2 million) listed themselves as being of German ancestry than any other ethnic background. Next in order came Irish, English, Italian and Polish.

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