Boom in bust

February 03, 1993

Maryland did have a boom industry in 1992 after all.

It was hunger.

Food assistance advocates say even they were stunned by the explosion of need that mushroomed during the past year, as the recession further squeezed public resources and private giving.

* Even as Baltimore's population dropped, the number of city school children eligible for free lunches jumped 27 percent from 1990 to 1992.

* The occasions of homeless people being turned away from Anne Arundel County shelters due to a lack of space increased four-fold, from 55 instances in 1990 to 236 in 1991.

* In Baltimore County, the number of recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children increased 40 percent from 1990 to 1992 alone, from 13,000 to 18,000 families.

* The number of children eligible for free lunches in Howard County doubled from 1990 to 1992, to nearly 1,800 kids.

* People were also turned away at an alarming rate from shelters in Carroll County. There were 25 reported instances of that in 1990; 262 instances in 1991.

* The number of homeless people receiving shelter in Harford County nearly doubled in those two years, from 600 in 1990 to 1,050 in 1991.

This growth in the misery industry exerted great pressure on the network of church and community food pantries and soup kitchens. In recent months, many pantries have been forced to shrink the size of the food packages they distribute and to restrict families to perhaps one package a month, the Maryland Food Committee reports.

From where did all this need come? Many of the families are chronically poor, caught in a revolving door of little opportunity and low expectations. But many others are the so-called "new poor," people whose lives and lifestyles were undercut by loss of a job. From 1990 to 1992, the number of unemployed adults jumped 30 percent in Baltimore, 50 percent in Baltimore County and a whopping 70 percent in white-collar Howard County.

An economic recovery, more than anything, would help dry up much of this need. But Maryland, which has witnessed more news about layoffs than job creation in recent weeks, is expected to lag behind other areas of the nation in a recovery. Hunger is surely one growth industry the state would like to see shrink, but less state assistance won't kill this business. It'll only make it grow.

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