Survey shows declining rate of child poverty in Maryland

January 14, 2008|By Ben Meyerson | Ben Meyerson,Capital News Service

WASHINGTON -- Maryland had the lowest percentage of children younger than 5 living in poverty of any of the United States in 2005, according to new estimates from the Census Bureau.

The survey said 12.2 percent of children younger than 5 lived below the poverty line in Maryland, compared with a national average of 21.3 percent, according to a survey released by the Census Bureau's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program.

Maryland also had the second-lowest overall poverty rate in the nation, as well as the second-highest median household income, according to the survey.

The state moved up the ladder in each of these categories from 2004's survey, which might lead some to believe the state's welfare programs are doing well, according to Daraius Irani, director of applied economics at the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.

But Irani said the state should interpret the survey carefully.

"Arguably, if you're looking at data that says programs we've been putting in place are successful, it could say that we don't need to increase them," he said.

To cut state poverty programs would be a mistake, he said.

"Hopefully this doesn't mask some of the issues going on in Baltimore," where the survey said the overall poverty rate was 22.2 percent. The state average was 8.3 percent.

Matthew Joseph, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth in Maryland, said the low poverty rates make sense because of the state's wealth.

But, he said, the surveys shouldn't necessarily be taken at face value. Advocates for Children and Youth periodically calculates the cost of raising a family in Maryland, and Joseph said the group found it's notably above the federally established poverty line, which is $20,650 for a family of four.

"Maryland is one of the highest-cost states in the country to live in," Joseph said. "Depending on the jurisdiction, [the cost of living] could be two to three times the federal poverty level."

Consequently, the data could be deceiving, he said.

"It's not really as accurate to look at a national standard, given the higher cost," Joseph said. "If you really factored that in, you'd find there are many, many more families affected."

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