Despite a decrease in poverty among city children, nearly one in five Baltimore residents were living below federal poverty levels in 2008, according to Census Bureau data released Tuesday.
Census Bureau data showed that 19 percent of Baltimore's population lived in poverty last year, putting Maryland's most populous city well above the national rate of 13 percent.
The city data are in line with figures from 2007, but a 3 percent decrease in the number of city children living in poverty last year left local analysts searching for answers to what they call a statistical anomaly amid a sagging economy and the rise of unemployment in the area. One in four Baltimore children below the age of 18 were living in poverty, the Census Bureau data show, down from 28 percent in 2007. The figures have a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
"You would have thought, given the increase in joblessness in '08, that poverty among children would have increased," said Anirban Basu, chief executive of the Baltimore economic consulting firm Sage Policy Group Inc. "Obviously this is good news, but it is unclear why poverty would have fallen during the worst recession in the post-World War II era."
Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties saw a slight increase in the number of poor children, suggesting a possible migration from the city to outlying areas, analysts said. The 2008 figures come from the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey, which gathers information from 3 million households.
About 2,000 children left the city last year, according to Matthew Joseph, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth. But Joseph added that the city childhood poverty numbers could be nothing more than a statistical quirk, since overall poverty remained the same.
"In this instance, if the story is that the economy didn't hurt Baltimore City, then I don't think so," Joseph said. "There is a phenomenon at work here. I don't think poverty went down in '08. And in '09, it is expected to get much worse."
National analysts say poverty has been offset somewhat by an increase in government food stamps and other programs. Federal poverty levels vary based on factors such as household income, the number of those living in an individual unit and their ages. For example, a single-parent household with two children under age 18 and an annual income less than $17,346 would be considered to be living in poverty.
About 14 percent of city residents received food stamps in 2008, up 2 percent from the previous year. Nationally, 8.6 percent of Americans received food stamps in 2008, a 1 percent increase.
Statewide, 8.1 percent of Maryland's residents qualified as poor last year, virtually the same as in 2007, with Howard County posting the lowest rate at 3.6 percent.
Poverty rates in other local jurisdictions include: 8 percent in Baltimore County; 4 percent in Anne Arundel County; 5.6 percent in Harford County; and 7.1 percent in Carroll County.
Overall, Maryland has the second-lowest poverty level in the nation, trailing only New Hampshire (7.6 percent).
Figures released last week showed that Maryland's median household income of $70,545 was the highest in the nation. The state also led in that category in 2007 and has been among the national leaders for much of the decade, with Howard, Calvert and Montgomery counties all regularly ranking among the top 10 wealthiest counties in the nation.
But the state ranked 25th in the nation in overall child well-being, according to the 2009 Kids Count Databook, an annual report released by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.
"The state itself hasn't changed its economic position," Joseph said. "But you still have this general question about why children are doing so poorly and why a state with such few poor children is not doing well in child well-being."