By JAMIE FORZATO
CNS Special Report
COLLEGE PARK – A parent with two young children in Somerset County needs to make at least $42,000 a year to get by without government assistance, a new study says. That makes the county one of the most affordable in the state, but it’s also one of the poorest, and a local charity says families are struggling.
“Across the board there has been a tremendous increase in the need,” said Paula Savini, community relations director for Catholic Charities Diocese of Wilmington, which runs Seton Center, a non-profit organization in Somerset County.
The study by researchers at the University of Washington calculated the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Maryland counties — the minimum annual wage needed to provide shelter, transportation, food, child care, health care, and other essentials. Expenses such as cable television, after-school programs and eating out were not included.
They found that Somerset families need to make $16 to $20 an hour — twice the minimum wage — to meet the family’s basic needs without the help of public or private assistance.
According to 2010 U.S. Census data, while Maryland is among the wealthiest states in the country with a median household income of $68,933 in 2010, Somerset County’s median household income in 2010 was $38,134.
The University of Washington study did not determine how many working families have incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. Census Bureau data show that roughly 7,661 people in Somerset County – about 38.8 percent of the population – live in families with incomes less than 200 percent of the census poverty threshold. For a family of four, twice the threshold would be about $44,000. The census data count the elderly and other categories that were not included in the self-sufficiency calculations for working families.
Somerset County also has been hard hit by unemployment. In December 2011, the county had an 8.6 percent unemployment rate, one of the highest in the state.
Low-income families can receive temporary cash assistance, food aid and other help assistance through the Maryland Department of Human Resources.
Savini said most people who come to the center are low-income seasonal migrants and immigrants: “It’s a big farming community in Somerset County. In FY 2011, we served 3500 households through our food and basic needs program. We also had 196 mental health counseling cases.”
Many come to the Catholic Charities because they are depressed, Savini said.
“People who are coming in are seeking financial help, but through the intake process they may discover they’re also dealing with related emotional stress.”
Catholic Charities offer additional support and counseling as a way to deal with financial issues on an emotional level.
“There’s nothing more disheartening than being laid off from your job,” Savini said.