Newman said the spread of poverty outward from the city may lead to greater cooperation between Baltimore and nearby counties in combating common problems and providing basic services.

"What's happening is you can run, but you can't hide," she said. "The poor are migrating out; the drug problems are migrating out."

Thomas LaVeist, a Johns Hopkins University professor who studies health disparities, said a mid-decade housing boom and the development of biotech parks in the city may have pushed lower-income residents into cheaper housing in nearby suburbs.

The fresh data paint a bright picture for high school and college completion rates in the Baltimore area. The report shows that 87.5 percent of Marylanders 25 and older had completed high school or an equivalent degree, above the national average of 84.6 percent.

That statewide number, however, masked differences based on geography. In Howard County, for instance, 94.3 percent of residents 25 or older completed high school, making the county one of the best-educated nationwide. Baltimore finished last in the state at 76.9 percent, though that was an improvement over the 68.4 percent in the 2000 Census.

Marylanders performed even better relative to the rest of the country in completing a bachelor's degree. The state ranked third nationwide with a college completion rate of 35.2 percent.

Howard, the wealthiest county in the state, again led with 57.2 percent of residents having completed a bachelor's degree. Residents in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties had rates well above the national average.

Baltimore lagged behind, with 24.9 percent of residents having completed a bachelor's degree. But that number was up from 19.1 percent in 2000 and ahead of the rates for seven rural counties in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

The census information arrives against the backdrop of a statewide quest to improve the completion rate to 55 percent by 2020. That number would include community college degrees in addition to bachelor's degrees.

Nancy Shapiro, the university system's associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said the new data didn't surprise her but validated the state's targeted efforts to help students move from high school to college.

"It's a little bit like when you've been planting the field for a long time and then spring comes, and things start to grow," Shapiro said of the increased completion rates. "Some of the work we've done has taken root."

Baltimore Sun reporters Childs Walker and Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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Census income data Median household income

U.S.: $51,425 Anne Arundel: $81,824 Baltimore: $38,738 Baltimore County: $63,348 Carroll: $80,743 Harford: $75,872 Howard: $101,003

Top states Median incomes of top 5 U.S. states, according to 2005-2009 American Community Survey data. Hawaii and Alaska do not appear to be statistically significant, so there's no telling who's no. 4 and who's no. 5. 1. Maryland 69,475 2. New Jersey 68,981 3. Connecticut 67,721 4. Hawaii 64,661 5. Alaska 64,635

Source: Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2005-2009