WASHINGTON – Maryland has one of the highest household income levels and one of the lowest poverty rates in the nation, according to Census Bureau estimates released Wednesday.
The estimates on 1997 income and poverty rates showed that Maryland had the third-highest average income, at $45,289, of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only New Jersey and Connecticut had higher average incomes in 1997, according to the Census.
Maryland’s poverty rate was also 46th lowest in the country, with 9.5 percent of state’s residents living below the poverty line. The national average was 13.3 percent.
“Maryland is experiencing the strongest economy in the state’s history,” said Michelle Byrnie, spokeswoman for Gov. Parris Glendening. “Maryland not only has a strong economy but also a high quality of life.”
But not all Marylanders are sharing the wealth.
“There’s a lot of exuberance of how well we’re faring. But many people don’t know that not everyone is sharing this prosperity,” said Steve Hill, director of Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute.
Most of this wealth is concentrated in central Maryland: Howard County’s average income of $68,024 was seventh-highest in the nation and Montgomery County was 18th-highest in the country with an average income of $62,130.
Montgomery County officials said they are proud of the county’s high ranking for income, but “no one should get the impression that we don’t have our own social and economic challenges in the county.”
“We are a bio-tech leader in the world. We have a lot of scientists and folks in technology community who are doing well. And we have a huge federal presence,” said David Weaver, spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan.
“While we are very proud of how well many of our residents are doing, we also never lose sight of the fact that a number of people have difficulty making ends meet,” Weaver said.
Montgomery County’s poverty rate of 5.6 percent was fourth-lowest in the state, behind Howard, Carroll and Anne Arundel counties.
In Baltimore City and rural counties like Somerset, by comparison, poverty rates were above 20 percent. Baltimore City had the highest percentage of residents living in poverty, at 23.7 percent, and Somerset had the lowest average income in the state, at $26,867.
Somerset County officials said they are not surprised by the rankings, because rural counties do not have the same economic opportunities as suburban Howard and Montgomery.
“I can’t think of any state in the union that doesn’t have areas of poverty and wealth,” said Frank Adams, Somerset County’s finance and programs coordinator. “Our economy is an agricultural and water-based economy. They have the corporate businesses, we don’t.”
Hill said that with all of the prosperity in central Maryland, many people are shielded from the truth that not all Marylanders are doing well economically.
“A lot of wealth is concentrated in central Maryland. As you get to far Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore and Baltimore City, there is widespread deprivation,” Hill said. “Most of us aren’t really aware of the deprivation in the rest of the state.”
Byrnie said the governor’s office is aware that “not every part of the state is sharing in this prosperity” and is working with House Speaker Casper Taylor, D-Allegany, on “One Maryland” legislation to help lagging areas move forward.
Hill said state legislators will consider other alternatives in the upcoming legislative session to help lift up the rest of the state. That includes proposals to increase the threshold for health insurance, so more low- income residents have access, and to raise the state earned-income credit on taxes for working parents.