Maryland income, poverty levels buck trends nationwide

Stable economic base delays downturn effects seen in rest of country

September 25, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Household incomes and poverty rates have held steady in Maryland since 1999, bucking a national trend that has seen incomes drop and poverty rise, according to the latest U.S. Census report.

Median household income in the state averaged $55,013 in the three years from 1999 to 2001, placing it second only to Alaska's average of $55,426.

Census officials say that Maryland saw a slight dip in median household income - from an average of $55,755 in 1999 and 2000, to $54,794 from 2000 through 2001. Median income means half of households earned more, and half less.

Marylanders' household income fared better than the national median, which dropped 2.2 percent to $42,228.

Over that same time, the poverty rate among the state's 5.7 million residents remained at 7.3 percent, census figures show.

The national poverty rate rose from 11.3 percent to 11.7 percent, with 32.9 million people living below the poverty line last year, according to the report.

For a family of four, the poverty level in 2001 was $18,104, up from $17,603.

The income and poverty figures were gleaned from a survey of 78,000 households in March, said Robert Bernstein, a Census Bureau spokesman.

Economists say that the state's fairly stable economic base delayed some of the impact of the national business downturn until after the census figures were collected.

"There definitely has been a decline here, but it hasn't slowed as much as the national economy," said Mark Goldstein, an economist with the Maryland Department of Planning.

Anirban Basu, director of Towson University's economic research institute, said that Maryland's economy boomed along with rest of the country in the 1990s, but cooled more slowly when the recession began to take hold in early 2000.

"Maryland was a late comer to the slowdown, but that doesn't mean the slowdown didn't arrive here," Basu said.

He said the state's relative affluence and the number of government jobs make it resistant - but not immune - to an economic downturn.

Basu said that he expects census data collected late this year to show the effects of the recession, with higher unemployment and lower income levels for Maryland.

"We're not recession-proof," Basu said.

The state's July unemployment rate, the most recent figure available, was 4.2 percent, Basu pointed out.

The national unemployment rate was 5.9 percent for July and 5.7 percent for August, he said.

Bernstein said the census report shows that median earnings for women who worked full time increased for the fifth consecutive year in 2001, jumping 3.5 percent and bringing them closer to men than ever before.

Women had a median income of $29,215, while men had a median income of $38,275. Men's income remained virtually unchanged.

But income levels declined for every ethnic group, dropping 1.3 percent for non-Hispanic whites, 3.4 percent for blacks and 6.4 percent for Asians.

Every region of the United States also saw a decline in median household income except the Northeast, where it remained flat, Bernstein said.

Median household incomes rose for only three states: Arizona, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

They declined for 12 states, with those in the Midwest and South being the hardest hit.

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