Maryland blacks are three times as likely as whites to be poor, despite a slight narrowing of the income gap between the races during the 1980s, census figures show.
The poverty rate was 16.6 percent for blacks and 5.3 percent for whites in Maryland. The figures, collected in the 1990 census and released yesterday, don't reflect the recent economic slide in which income growth has not kept pace with inflation.
Median black household income in the state was $30,905, just 72.6 percent of the white household median of $42,562. A decade earlier, blacks' income was 70.2 percent of whites'. Nationally, the gap is even wider. Blacks' income was only 60 percent of whites' in a census survey released last fall.
"Clearly, poverty is still far, far too great, especially among blacks," said George Buntin, executive director of the Baltimore National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We are not doing a very good job of helping people come up the ladder."
Mr. Buntin called the narrowing of the white-black income gap "such a small decrease that it's kind of frustrating."
"It lends credence to what we've been saying -- that government policies have not worked to make this society an equal society," he said.
Poverty hit the youngest and oldest of Maryland blacks hardest. More than one-third of black children under 5 years of age were poor, as were more than 40 percent of blacks 75 or over.
Baltimore was home to the most poor blacks and whites.
There, 27.9 percent of blacks and 12.6 percent of whites had incomes below the poverty level.
Poverty rates were even higher in several rural counties, however.
Nearly 40 percent of Allegany County's small black population and 16 percent of its whites were poor.
Dorchester and Somerset counties on the Lower Shore had black poverty comparable to Baltimore's. Garrett County in Western Maryland had a higher white poverty rate.
However, black household income gained the most during the decade, 21.9 percent after inflation, followed by the incomes of whites, Hispanics and Asians, the census showed.
The gap between white and black household incomes was narrowest in Prince George's County, where blacks' income was 88 percent of whites'.
Howard County blacks were the state's most affluent with a $45,259 median household income, but that was only 80 percent of Howard whites' income.
Maryland whites outnumber blacks by 3-to-1, but more than 10 times as many white households took in $100,000 or more.
The Asian median household income of $45,643 was the highest of all groups, as it was in 1980. Per capita income remained highest among whites ($19,789).
Overall, outer suburban counties reaped the greatest gains in family income during the decade as affluent Marylanders moved to the fringes of the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas.
Montgomery and Howard counties remained the state's richest, but the increasingly suburban Queen Anne's, Kent, Calvert and Frederick counties showed the most income growth.
"Families that tend to be better off moved to jurisdictions that traditionally had a more rural population," said Michel A. Lettre, assistant director of the Maryland Office of Planning, which released the figures.
A housing boom accompanied income growth in several counties. More than half of the residential housing in Queen Anne's County on the Upper Shore was built during the 1980s alone, as was 45 percent of residential housing in Howard and 39 percent in Calvert in Southern Maryland.
Many new residents of the second tier of suburbs work elsewhere, "either in the center cities or more likely in the old suburban counties of Montgomery, Prince George's, Baltimore and Anne Arundel," Mr. Lettre said.
Two-income families contributed heavily to earnings in the affluent counties, as more Maryland women than ever worked outside the home. In Prince George's and Howard counties, nearly three-quarters of all women over 16 worked.
Many women in poor counties also entered the work force. In Eastern Shore counties such as Dorchester, Caroline and Somerset, more than two-thirds of women with children under 6 worked.
Allegany County, plagued by factory closings and the loss of blue-collar jobs, was the only county to show a loss in median family income during the 1980s after inflation.