New Census survey data show continued effect of recession

With incomes flat last year, more people rented and fewer babies were born in Maryland

Maryland had the highest median income in the nation last year and one of its lowest poverty rates, but new survey data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau nonetheless painted a glum portrait of how the Great Recession continues to reverberate through the economy.

Families experienced little increase in incomes last year; more homes were occupied by renters; fewer people were working or looking for work; and the birth rate continued to decline, according to data from the American Community Survey conducted annually by the census bureau.

Many of the trends in Maryland mirrored those found across the country, where there was little progress in incomes or poverty rates for the fourth year in a row.

Because other parts of the economy have appeared to improve, many hoped to see that show up in income and other data, said Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy for the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore.

"The bottom line for us was, we had our fingers crossed that things were going to improve and they didn't," she said. "They didn't get worse but given what's supposed to be happening with the economy that's not necessarily good news."

The Great Recession followed the Wall Street crisis of 2007 and the housing market crash. While it ran from late 2007 to mid-2009, the nation's recovery has been ploddingly slow, especially in terms of employment and income.

Still, by many measures, Maryland outperforms the rest of the nation.

The state's median household income was $73,971 in 2014, about $20,000 more than the U.S. overall, according to the latest survey. The percentage of Marylanders living in poverty was 10.1 percent in 2014, about a third less than the 15.5 percent national average.

The 68.1 percent of working-age people with jobs or looking for one in Maryland also represent a higher workforce participation rate than the rest of the United States.

But those metrics remain worse than they were before the recession and did not improve significantly — or in the case of the labor force actually declined — last year.

The percentage of Baltimore City residents living in poverty was 23.6 percent, up slightly from 2013.

"Clearly there are still effects that we're working through as a result of what happened during and after the Great Recession," said Mark Goldstein, an economist at the Maryland Department of Planning.

When it comes to poverty rates, using a national measure also can obscure facts on the ground, given Maryland's relatively high incomes and high cost of living, said William P. O'Hare, president of O'Hare Data and Demographic Services.

"If you're in a high-cost area like Maryland is and employers have to pay more, income is above the national poverty threshold but it really doesn't buy as much as it would somewhere else," he said. "In some ways, the poverty rate is a little bit artificially low."

The economic struggle continues to show up in census data in other ways as well.

•More people are renting.

The percentage of renter-occupied housing units in Maryland rose to 34.1 percent last year, up from 33.5 percent in 2013, an increase within the margin of error. However, in 2006, 30.6 percent of housing units were renter-occupied.

Nationwide, rental units represented 36.9 percent of housing units in 2014, up from 36.5 the year prior.

•Fewer parents are sending their children to private school.

About 16.4 percent of Maryland children ages three to 17 were enrolled in private school in 2014, down from 21 percent in 2007, according to the survey.

In Baltimore City, private secondary and pre-school enrollments fell to 16.3 percent last year from 19.2 percent in 2007.

Nationwide, about 12.8 percent of children were enrolled in private school in 2014, down from 14 percent in 2007.

•Women also appear to be continuing to holding back on child-bearing.

The birth rate in Maryland fell to 47 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 50 last year, down from 52 per 1,000 women in 2013. In 2006, the birth rate was 59 per 1,000 women.

Some of that decline has come from significantly fewer teens giving birth: 13 per 1,000 women in 2014 compared to 28 in 2006.

However, there's also been a steep fall-off among women between the ages of 20 and 34. The state rate among those women considered to be of peak child-bearing age fell to 78 per 1,000 women in 2014 from 90 per 1,000 women in 2013. It was even higher, 103 per 1,000 women, in 2006.

The overall U.S. birth rate of 52 per 1,000 women was unchanged from last year.

Experts said economics has been driving the decline in birth rates over the long-term and could have played a role in the state's 2014 decline because the federal government's sequestration had a larger impact in Maryland, which depends heavily on federal spending.

Maryland's larger decline last year also could be a statistical fluke or reflect a smaller population of Latinos, who have been boosting birth rates in other states.

The decline also could be a result of more women in that age group working, said Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana Wen.

But Wen said the drop in teen birth rates reflected hard work from an umbrella commission called B'more for Healthy Babies, launched when Baltimore had the fourth-worst infant mortality rate in the country.

Teen births are linked to higher rates of infant mortality and poor health outcomes for both the teen mothers and their children, she said. The city in February announced the teen birth rate had fallen by a third between 2009 to 2013.

"We're very proud of these outcomes," Wen said. "That's why we track birth rate data, it's not for the sake of itself. It's because we want to improve health outcomes for babies and mothers."

Below are some additional findings from the survey data.

•More workers in Maryland use public transit to get to work than in the rest of the United States: 9 percent, versus 5.2 percent nationally. In Baltimore City, about 18.6 percent of workers commute by public transit.

•Growth in the number of new households in Maryland continued to lag population growth. That indicator is closely watched because it has ripple effects on the housing market.

•Maryland was one of six states where income inequality, as measured statistically by the so-called Gini income coefficient, declined.

•Similar to trends reported in other surveys, the number of foreign-born residents in Maryland grew far more rapidly than population as a whole, increasing by about 5.7 percent to 890,439.

Baltimore Sun reporter Carrie Wells contributed to this article.

nsherman@baltsun.com

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