Most of Md.'s poor now live outside Baltimore

March 13, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Department of Human Resoruces' Monthly Statistical Report (All figures are annualized)Sun Staff Writer

An article in Sunday's edition of The Sun incorrectly stated the number of jobs lost in Maryland during the recent recession. The correct number is 80,000 jobs lost.

The Sun regrets the error.

Poverty in Maryland is moving to the suburbs.

Until 1993, the typical poor person lived in Baltimore.

But last year, for the first time, the majority of the state's poor lived outside Charm City.

"Poverty is not just a black, urban problem," said Linda Eisenberg, executive director of the Maryland Food Committee.

"We've known for a long time that this isn't so, but now it's becoming more visible. The numbers are greater," she said.


Last year, nearly 53 percent of the 347,669 Marylanders who received public assistance lived in the counties, compared with 43 percent of 258,347 recipients six years ago, according to the state Department of Human Resources.

The suburban poor include Meredith Wulff, a Howard County woman who lost her job because of an injury; Margie Anderson, a 22-year-old unwed mother of three whose family crisis started 12 years ago when her father left home; Wesley Padgett, a working father caring for three children; and Rita Burris, a mother who fled the city's housing projects to find a better life for her family in Baltimore County.

The recession and cuts in the defense industry are cited as the main reasons for the increase of poverty in the counties. The Maryland Food Committee estimates that the state lost 800,000 jobs during the recession -- most of them at companies in the suburbs.

Bob Gaidyz, director of the Baltimore County Community Assistance Network, estimated that 30 percent of the people his agency helps are "new poor" -- people who never sought help before.

But some problems will not diminish even as the economy improves. Housing costs are increasing, especially in formerly rural counties such as Harford and Carroll. Poor people are moving away from Baltimore to find a better life. The number of single-parent families is increasing in the suburbs,from 57,000 in 1980 to more than 78,000 in 1990, according to the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

"No one has much of a personal safety net," Ms. Eisenberg said. "People are seeing friends and family go into the skids awfully fast."

Jobs never lasted

Margie Anderson was only 10 when her father left home, taking with him the middle-class life she had known. Although her mother returned to work, the bills climbed. Ms. Anderson left parochial school to attend a public school. Her older sister left home for good.

Ms. Anderson recalls feeling alone and confused.

At 13, she had her first baby and dropped out of school. A year later, pregnant with her second child, she turned to the state for aid. At 18, she moved out of her mother's home to live with a boyfriend.

Today, Ms. Anderson lives in a three-room house in Essex with her third child, a blond 2-year-old. Ms. Anderson's mother cares for the two older children.

Ms. Anderson has held a number of jobs at fast-food restaurants and gas stations, but they never lasted. She still is among nearly 29,000 Baltimore County residents receiving assistance -- for her, $290 a month, plus food stamps. But after she pays $200 in rent, she has $90 left to buy clothing, toiletries, medicine and gasoline. She needs dental care, but cannot afford it.

In the past few months, she has found a food pantry at a nearby church that she visits twice a month. Ms. Anderson tries to repay the church by helping stock shelves or picking up donations.

Like other suburban poor, her poverty is not obvious. The house she rents from her boyfriend's family is modest, but much about the household is middle class. Friends have given her a microwave. She has a washer and dryer. She drives a 1984 Thunderbird.

Ms. Anderson is working to change her life. She has received her general equivalency diploma, is studying criminal justice at Essex Community College and would like to be a police officer.

L "I don't just sit and boo-hoo about my situation," she said.

Number of programs

The state offers a number of public assistance programs, but the largest in terms of people helped and dollars spent are the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program and the food stamp program.

Maryland distributed more than $313 million -- a combination of state and federal money -- in AFDC benefits last year to needy children and the relatives who care for them.

The state's food stamp program, which provides benefits for the working poor as well as those receiving AFDC and other welfare payments, cost even more -- $336.5 million. Rita Burris has no regrets aboutmoving to Essex.

She was a high school dropout living in Baltimore's housing projects until 1989, when threats from drug addicts and the desire to give her children a good education prompted her to move to Baltimore County.

"I felt like I'd been at the bottom. I didn't want to stay there anymore," she said.

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