WASHINGTON - Maryland has the third-highest household income in the nation but it also has a significant number of people living in poverty, according to recent reports by the Census Bureau.
The state's median household income was $44,970 in the three years from 1995-1997, placing it behind only Alaska and New Jersey.
But Maryland, with 9.6 percent of its residents living at or below the poverty level, trailed nine other states that had smaller percentages of their populations in poverty.
Maryland's poverty rate was still better than the national average of 13.3 percent. But the disparity between the state's income and its poor suggests that not all residents are sharing in Maryland's wealth.
"What can I say, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting a little richer," said Daniel H. Weinberg, chief of the Census Bureau's Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, which released the reports.
Mahlon Straszheim, chairman of the economics department at the University of Maryland College Park, said the state's rising income is offset by its poverty-plagued urban areas.
"The income levels reflect a highly educated population with a solid knowledge base allowing it to obtain more," Straszheim said of the income gains.
"The poverty level reflects that we have a significant urban population, like Baltimore City, that brings a high incidence of poor people, which causes some areas to fall below the federal poverty guidelines and brings down the state average," he said.
Nationally, median income has risen over the past three years to $37,005, according to "Money Income in the United States: 1997," one of the two new reports.
While income was rising, the national poverty rate was falling, from 13.7 percent in 1996 to 13.3 percent in 1997, according to "Poverty in the United States: 1997."
But while the percentage of poor people fell nationwide, the number of people living in poverty remained virtually unchanged, hovering around 35.6 million.
The same is true of Maryland, where income levels have risen steadily and poverty rates are on the decline. And though the state's poverty rate is significantly lower than the nation's, many people have fallen between the cracks.
"One reason for the difference between the rate of people who have higher incomes and the rate of people in poverty might be that there might be a higher concentration of poor people," in Maryland, said Ed Welniak, a Census Bureau analyst.
"The report indicates the median levels, and as such, if more people are at the bottom of the income scale, it brings the income levels down toward the whole," he said.
The Census Bureau income and poverty reports listed national and state-by-state data only. The most-recent poverty and income information on a county level was based on 1989 census data.