WASHINGTON – Maryland had one of the lowest poverty rates in the country and one of the highest median household incomes in 1998, according to poverty estimates released Friday by the Census Bureau.
The Census estimated that 8.8 percent of Maryland residents lived in poverty in 1998, much lower than the national average of 12.7 percent for the same year. Only Connecticut and New Hampshire had lower poverty rates, though census experts cautioned against ranking states estimated figures.
Maryland also had one of the highest median household incomes in the country at $47,492, well above the national median of $38,885.
State officials hailed the report, but advocates for the poor warned that the numbers may not reflect the reality of many people in Maryland who struggle financially.
“The poverty standard probably doesn’t represent a household and their ability to live in any kind of adequacy,” said Lynda Meade, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities.
She said the federal standards of poverty do not reflect how people live from day to day. “There is nothing built into the federal poverty standard to reflect the cost of child care or the sky rocketing cost of rent,” she said.
The poverty standard differs from household to household, depending upon the size of the family. For 1998, the poverty threshold for a family of three was $13,003.
“Families can barely survive at the poverty line,” Meade said. That is why many state programs grant assistance to families who earn up to even three times the poverty standard, she said.
Steve Hill, of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute, said that while the numbers overall are good, there are concentrated pockets of people throughout Maryland who live in poverty.
“The far west of the state, the Eastern Shore and large segments of Baltimore City have extraordinarily high rates of poverty and very low incomes,” he said.
The Census Bureau produced the estimates by combining results from its March 1999 Current Population Survey with records on Supplemental Security Income recipients, federal income tax returns and the 1990 Census figures. The estimates are used in administering federal programs.
“Poverty is low. Maryland is a wealthy state,” said Mark Goldstein, of the Maryland Department of Planning.
He said the state’s estimated poverty rate in 1998 was much lower than the rate in 1993, when the state’s economy was still recovering from the recession. The 1993 poverty rate was 10.2 percent in Maryland, compared to 8.8 percent in 1998.
Goldstein said the 1998 number reflects a growing state economy that has started to meet and exceed national standards.