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Census shows Md. No. 1 in wealth

Maryland has maintained its perch as the nation's wealthiest state, according to data released Tuesday by the Census Bureau, though more residents in some suburbs were living in poverty than in 2000.

The census information contained some good news for Baltimore. Residents in the city - as in the rest of the state - made strides in education, with greater proportions holding high school diplomas and college degrees.The mix of residents of Baltimore's suburbs, meanwhile, shifted noticeably. For example, in Baltimore County, the region's largest locality, the poverty rate increased significantly. The county also saw a jump in its immigrant population, especially in communities such as Dundalk and Essex.

At Herman's Bakery and Deli in Dundalk, workers have learned in recent years that cakes with fruit fillings are popular with the area's growing Hispanic population. "They've educated us more on what types of product would be good for their families," said Adrienne Porcella, a co-owner of the bakery.

The new census data, based on surveys of a shifting sample of the American population between 2005 and 2009, provide a rich picture of life in Maryland's neighborhoods, smaller towns and rural areas.

Among the findings:

• Maryland's median household income was nearly $70,000, ahead of Connecticut and New Jersey, and far above the nationwide median of about $51,400.

• Fewer than 10 percent of city households fit the "traditional" mold of a married couple with children. Both the average household size and family size in the city have increased since 2000.

• Marylanders continued to have some of the nation's longest driving commutes - about 31 minutes on average, virtually tied with New Yorkers.

The data depict the country straddling the mid-decade economic boom and the ensuing recession, which began around December 2007 and lasted until mid-2009. For that reason, some academics say, the data are not a completely accurate portrayal of Maryland today.

"They're taking the high of the boom with the low of the recession," said Sandra J. Newman, an urban policy professor at the Johns Hopkins University. "You're going to end up with something in the middle."

But because the detailed demographic information - including figures on vacant houses and the citizenship status of residents - is now available for areas as small as neighborhoods, it provides statistical backing for small-scale trends developing since 2000 that had before been hinted at anecdotally.

In Baltimore County, for instance, the number of immigrants went from an estimated 7 percent of the population in 2000 to nearly 10 percent in the period measured by the survey, with sharper spikes evident in the eastern half of the county.

Elizabeth Alex, who manages the Baltimore office of CASA de Maryland, a group that helps low-income Hispanic immigrants get access to resources, has noticed a trend among clients. Although they may live in the city when first arriving in the United States, they are likely to move to the suburbs fairly quickly.

While immigrant population growth has been modest in the city, "we've seen a more dramatic increase in the Baltimore County area," Alex said, pointing especially to the communities of Dundalk, Essex, Cockeysville, and Timonium as hotspots.

Porcella said her business has seen a marked increase in Hispanic customers in the last five years. Spanish-speaking workers help the bakery serve a more diverse community, she said.

"Dundalk seems to have jobs," she said. "That attracts a lot of people towards this area."

She has also noticed more Pakistani, Indian, and Middle Eastern residents in Dundalk. "You come in and sit on a Saturday, and you'll see multicultural families."

Official 2010 Census numbers, including detailed data down to the block level on race, age, and population counts, will be released in early 2011.

Though Maryland as a whole enjoys lower poverty rates than the nation, and the poverty rate in Baltimore has changed little since 2000, the census survey suggests that poverty is creeping from the city to nearby suburbs such as Towson and Woodlawn. Baltimore County's overall poverty rate increased, with almost 8 percent of individuals ranked as poor, according to the new data, compared with 6.5 percent in 2000.

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 dataMedian household income

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

Top statesMedian 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 69,4752. New Jersey 68,9813. Connecticut 67,7214. Hawaii 64,6615. Alaska 64,635

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

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