'Wealth' is not the same as income

December 20, 2010

I enjoyed Yagenah Jane Torbati's article "Maryland is wealthiest state, Census data show" (Dec. 14), but I wish to take issue with the choice of the word "wealthiest" in the headline and the article.

"Wealth" is defined as "a great quantity or store of money, valuable possessions, property, or other riches," which is quite distinct from household income, which is what the Census Bureau measured. Thus it is possible for Maryland to have the highest median household income without having the highest median level of household wealth.

I take issue with this not merely to make a semantic point but also because wealth does in fact have a great impact on the life choices of Maryland citizens. High levels of wealth allow for home ownership, tuition payments for private schools, graduation from college without being saddled with debt, and taking time off from work for child care. These options may or may not be open to folks who simply have a high income but who have not accumulated wealth, or whose families have not passed wealth down to them over generations.

I see the impact of lack of wealth in my daily work as principal at Saint Ignatius Loyola Academy, an independent, tuition-free middle school for Baltimore City boys of low-income backgrounds. We hope to provide students with the educational opportunities and the kinds of cultural exposure that normally flow only to students whose families have higher levels of wealth. And indeed, it is wealth, and not income, that makes the bulk of difference — families who do not have accumulated wealth struggle to make down payments on homes in neighborhoods with "good" schools, and despite the accessibility of some financial aid, struggle to make the family contributions necessary to send children to private schools.

The impact of income is significant, of course, but one must be careful not to substitute the concept of income for wealth.

Christopher H. Wilson, Baltimore

The writer is principal of Saint Ignatius Loyola Academy.

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