Md. drivers see a rise in time behind wheel

State of haves and have-nots

U.s. Census


August 30, 2006|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,Sun reporter

Drive the 10 miles along U.S. 40 from West Baltimore to Ellicott City and see boarded-up rowhouses give way to stately homes with lush green lawns.

The quick trip from one of the nation's poorest jurisdictions to one of its wealthiest underscores Maryland as a state of haves and have-nots - a point affirmed yesterday with the release of the latest census data on average household income and poverty.

While Howard County ranked among the nation's richest jurisdictions last year, with a median household income of $91,184, Baltimore City's median income of $32,456 remained among the lowest, according to the study, known as the American Community Survey.

For years, Maryland has been home to some of the nation's most affluent households. But last year, though Maryland ranked as the second-richest state in the nation behind New Jersey, a portion of its residents remained impoverished and without health insurance, according to a separate survey also released yesterday charting national economic trends.

The Maryland figures, some economists say, mirror a national trend over the past few years: While the most affluent households became richer, working-class families fell behind.

"There is a growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots. You see some people trying to make political hay out of that, but it's a statistical reality," said Anirban Basu, an economist and chief executive officer of Sage Policy Group Inc. in Baltimore.

Among jurisdictions in the United States with a population of at least 250,000, Howard County ranked third-wealthiest - behind the Virginia counties of Loudoun and Fairfax - and Montgomery County was sixth. Baltimore's median income was fourth-lowest among jurisdictions of similar size, just above Lubbock County, Texas; Caddo Parish, La.; and Philadelphia.

The American Community Survey data show that while median household income figures increased overall in Maryland since 2000, when adjusted for inflation, actual earnings remained virtually unchanged over that period, hovering at about $61,500. Among counties in the Baltimore metropolitan area, only Carroll and Howard saw an increase in inflation-adjusted dollars. Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Baltimore City all experienced slight declines.

While census officials discourage such comparisons - emphasizing that this year's American Community Survey estimates were produced using different methodology than previous years - Basu said he thinks they illustrate the struggles facing Maryland's economy.

"This is part of a broader national economic story," he said. "In real terms wages have been stagnant since at least 2003 and the Baltimore area is still subject to the forces that are affecting the balance of the nation."

Meanwhile, gas prices, home heating costs, tuition, health care expenses and property taxes continue to rise. "For many households, this is dramatic," Basu said.

Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute, said while he questions the figures that show Maryland's median income has not grown in six years, he agrees that the gains in economic growth statewide have not being distributed evenly.

While opportunities have grown for entrepreneurs and people in specialized fields, the loss of manufacturing jobs and a decline in government investment in work force training have hit working-class people hard, he said.

"Montgomery and Howard, these are the winners in this economy; the knowledge workers, the creative workers," Clinch said. "And the lower-middle class and lower-income adults are the losers in this economic expansion because they are facing job losses.

"If you have a four-year degree you are doing great in Maryland. If you do not, things are getting stagnant or getting worse."

Nationwide, median income rose by 1.1 percent from 2004 to 2005 for the first time since 1999. Poverty rates, which have grown consistently since 2001, leveled off, with about 37 million people living in poverty.

An analysis from the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington painted a gloomy outlook for the working class. It noted that the median income for households headed by someone younger than 65 fell 0.5 percent last year, as it has consistently since 2000. Meanwhile, median earnings fell in 2005, by 1.8 percent for men and 1.3 percent for women.

Advocates for universal health insurance were discouraged at the swelling ranks of the uninsured, which rose from 15.6 percent in 2004 to 15.9 percent in 2005. Maryland figures have held steady at about 14 percent since 2003.

"A holding pattern is not progress in the right direction," said Salliann Alborn, chief executive officer of Maryland Community Health System, a network of community health centers that treats the uninsured.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, plans to testify today before a new legislative task force charged with recommending solutions to stem the growing tide of uninsured Marylanders.

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