Maryland is wealthiest state, census data show

Poverty rates are climbing in some area counties

December 14, 2010|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

Maryland has maintained its perch as the nation's wealthiest state, according to data released Tuesday by the Census Bureau, though more residents in some suburbs were living in poverty than in 2000.

The census information contained some good news for Baltimore. Residents in the city — as in the rest of the state — made bounds in education, with greater proportions holding high school diplomas and college degrees.

The mix of residents of Baltimore's suburbs, meanwhile, shifted noticeably. For example, in Baltimore County, the region's largest locality, the poverty rate increased significantly. The county also saw a jump in its immigrant population, especially in communities such as Dundalk and Essex.

At Herman's Bakery and Deli in Dundalk, workers have learned in recent years that cakes with fruit fillings are popular with the area's growing Hispanic population. "They've educated us more on what types of product would be good for their families," said Adrienne Porcella, a co-owner of the bakery.

The new census data, based on surveys of a shifting sample of the American population between 2005 and 2009, provide a rich picture of life in Maryland's neighborhoods, smaller towns and rural areas.

Among the findings:

•Maryland's median household income was nearly $70,000, ahead of Connecticut and New Jersey, and far above the nationwide median of about $51,400.

•Fewer than 10 percent of city households fit the "traditional" mold of a married couple with children. Both the average household size and family size in the city have increased since 2000.

•Marylanders continued to have some of the nation's longest driving commutes — about 31 minutes on average, virtually tied with New Yorkers.

The data depict the country straddling the mid-decade economic boom and the ensuing recession, which began around December 2007 and lasted until mid-2009. For that reason, some academics say, the data are not a completely accurate portrayal of Maryland today.

"They're taking the high of the boom with the low of the recession," said Sandra J. Newman, an urban policy professor at the Johns Hopkins University. "You're going to end up with something in the middle."

But because the detailed demographic information — including figures on vacant houses and the citizenship status of residents — is now available for areas as small as neighborhoods, it provides statistical backing for small-scale trends developing since 2000 that had before been hinted at anecdotally.

In Baltimore County, for instance, the number of immigrants went from an estimated 7 percent of the population in 2000 to nearly 10 percent in the period measured by the survey, with sharper spikes evident in the eastern half of the county.

Elizabeth Alex, who manages the Baltimore office of CASA de Maryland, a group that helps low-income Hispanic immigrants get access to resources, has noticed a trend among clients. Although they may live in the city when first arriving in the United States, they are likely to move to the suburbs fairly quickly.

While immigrant population growth has been modest in the city, "we've seen a more dramatic increase in the Baltimore County area," Alex said, pointing especially to the communities of Dundalk, Essex, Cockeysville, and Timonium as hotspots.

Porcella said her business has seen a marked increase in Hispanic customers in the last five years. Spanish-speaking workers help the bakery serve a more diverse community, she said.

"Dundalk seems to have jobs," she said. "That attracts a lot of people towards this area."

She has also noticed more Pakistani, Indian, and Middle Eastern residents in Dundalk. "You come in and sit on a Saturday, and you'll see multicultural families."

Official 2010 Census numbers, including detailed data down to the block level on race, age, and population counts, will be released in early 2011.

Though Maryland as a whole enjoys lower poverty rates than the nation, and the poverty rate in Baltimore has changed little since 2000, the census survey suggests that poverty is creeping from the city to nearby suburbs such as Towson and Woodlawn. Baltimore County's overall poverty rate increased, with almost 8 percent of individuals ranked as poor, according to the new data, compared with 6.5 percent in 2000.

Newman said the spread of poverty outward from the city may lead to greater cooperation between Baltimore and nearby counties in combating common problems and providing basic services.

"What's happening is you can run, but you can't hide," she said. "The poor are migrating out; the drug problems are migrating out."

Thomas LaVeist, a Johns Hopkins University professor who studies health disparities, said a mid-decade housing boom and the development of biotech parks in the city may have pushed lower-income residents into cheaper housing in nearby suburbs.

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