If there is one "boom industry" that Baltimore County does not want -- but, unavoidably, has -- it is the local social services caseload.
The upturn in the number of cases reflects not only the harsh economy of the past few years but the subdivision's changing demographics as well. During the 1980s, nearly 38,000 county residents moved to other suburban and exurban jurisdictions, while 45,000 former residents of Baltimore City came to live in Baltimore County. Many of the ex-city dwellers had incomes well below the county average and thus were likely candidates for social service programs. It was no coincidence that the demand for social services in Baltimore County began a steady climb in the latter 1980s, when the number of city-to-county migrants nearly doubled that of the decade's first half.
The consequences of these demographic shifts -- and of the recession's effects -- are brought home by the following statistics, provided by the United Way of Central Maryland:
* In 1993, 2,114 county residents were served by shelters -- a thousand fewer than the number of people turned away.
* Of the county's homeless, about 40 percent are younger than 17.
* Some 37,000 county residents live below the poverty line, almost a third of them under 17.
* There were 895 reports of neglect and physical and sexual abuse in the county two years ago.
* Of the 540,645 adults in the county, 21 percent have not completed high school.
* And, the county's senior population, growing at a rate exceeded only by that of Dade County, Fla., should approach 145,000 by the end of the decade.
The United Way has played a big part in meeting these expanding needs, last year returning $3.3 million in donations to agencies that served 215,000 county residents. That works out to about $15 per person served, which must rank among the great achievements of cost efficiency by any aid agency. It's typical of the United Way.
Total contributions to the United Way of Central Maryland dropped 3 percent last year, a drop attributed to the layoffs and general belt-tightening caused by the anemic economy. So it's all the more important that donors maintain, or even increase, their levels of giving. They can take comfort in the ease of weekly paycheck deductions and the diligence with which United Way officials monitor the effectiveness of programs.
The main persuaders? Money goes where it's meant to go, and it has an impact. Ask any of the thousands of Baltimore County residents whose lives have been made better by the United Way.