At Maryland's core

December 05, 2005

A front-page story in this newspaper last week heralded the U.S. Census Bureau's latest ranking of states by wealth, once again pointing to Maryland's relative riches. As measured by 2003 median household income, Maryland is the nation's third-richest state, behind Connecticut and New Jersey. And as in earlier surveys, Howard and Montgomery counties were among the most well-off places in the nation, ranking eighth and 11th, respectively.

Such accolades are a natural consequence of the large concentrations of highly educated Marylanders and their relatively high employment rate, thanks in no small part to the state's long-standing good fortune to be right next door to the nation's capital. But in Maryland's case, the happy aggregate glosses over the unhappy realities at its impoverished core: Baltimore, which the Census Bureau still ranks as one of America's poorest cities.

The disparities between Baltimore and Maryland's upper-middle-class bastions may be obvious to most Marylanders, but they are so extreme as to be worth noting again (and again). According to the bureau:

Median household income in Howard and Montgomery approached $80,000 in 2003. In Baltimore, it was under $30,000.

The 2003 poverty rates in Howard and Montgomery were 4.7 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively. In Baltimore, the rate was almost 20 percent (more than 25 percent for children).

In 2004, according to another Census survey, more than half the residents of Howard and Montgomery over 25 years old had bachelor's degrees and more than a quarter had advanced degrees. In Baltimore, only a quarter had bachelor's degrees and just 11.5 percent had advanced degrees.

In these and other big statistical disparities lies Maryland's greatest challenge. It's wonderful that Maryland as a whole is so well-off. But let's not forget for a moment that Maryland's large pockets of success do not exist in isolation from the troubles at the core of the state, the troubles within its only major city.

It's not that Baltimore has been ignored, of course. Growing parts of the city are enjoying an exciting renaissance - after waves of renewal programs from both City Hall and Annapolis. It's that the city needs to come back so much more - and helping Baltimore do that is the only way that Maryland will ever become truly well-off.

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