Survey says poverty line too low for family of 4

Study part of push to form plans to help working poor

November 22, 2000|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Marylanders believe a family of four needs thousands of dollars more than the poverty line to make ends meet in this state, according to a new survey of attitudes about the working poor.

The survey of 800 Maryland residents, commissioned by three Baltimore foundations, found nearly three out of four respondents thought a family of four would need an annual income of at least $35,000 to meet basic needs.

But two parents who worked full time and earned the state's minimum wage of $5.15 per hour would make less than $22,000 a year. The federal poverty threshold for such a family - assuming the couple had two children - is $17,050.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Baltimore office of the Open Society Institute and the Abell Foundation commissioned the survey - along with a study of Maryland's work force development efforts - to prompt policies to improve opportunities for the working poor, said Diana Morris, director of the local Open Society Institute.

"In Maryland, we do not have a labor shortage, but we do have a skills and readiness shortage," Morris said.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in September that Maryland had the lowest poverty rate in the nation, based on statistics from 1998 and 1999. The state's poverty rate was 7.2 percent during that period, compared with a national rate of 12.3 percent.

But Morris said: "We are very aware this hides some information about pockets of our communities that are not sharing in the prosperity of this time."

The study released yesterday, conducted by Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization in Boston, found more than 60 percent of Maryland's poor families have at least one working adult.

The report lauded the state and Maryland businesses for several programs under way to train workers for higher-paying jobs. But Jerry Rubin, a vice president at Jobs for the Future, said the efforts need to be more "seamless."

"One-stop" job centers operated by the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation work separately from the welfare-to-work programs run by local departments of social services. Yet they provide many of the same functions, the report said.

Eleanor M. Carey, president of the Governor's Workforce Investment Board, agreed more coordination is necessary.

"There are pieces in place," she said, "but they have to be refined."

Many of those interviewed said government bears some responsibility for training workers to move up the career ladder.

Seventy-eight percent thought government should help low-income people after they find jobs by helping with childcare. Nearly as many favored offering tax credits to people who work full time but don't earn enough to keep their families out of poverty.

The study results were no surprise to Joanne Nathans of the Job Opportunities Task Force, a group of Baltimore advocates for the poor, employers and nonprofit organizations.

That task force last year found nearly two out of three jobs in the Baltimore metropolitan area paid less than $8.50 an hour, or less than $17,680 a year.

But Nathans was cheered by the public attitudes reflected in the survey, which she called "enormously encouraging as indications of the public will."

The research will be discussed at a statewide conference sponsored by the foundations Dec. 7 and 8 in Ellicott City.

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