In wealthy Howard, 25 percent of families struggle to make ends meet, survey finds

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

A family of four in Howard County needs a combined yearly income of nearly $86,000 to afford basic needs, such as housing, child care, health care and food, according to a new United Way report.

An estimated one-in-four households in the county makes less than the $85,800 “survival budget” that covers bare necessities, the ALICE report said. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — the working poor.

Howard County is one of the nation’s wealthiest, with a median household income of $113,800 in 2016.

In all of Maryland, 38 percent of families or 825,433 households, are part of the ALICE population. Howard County reported the lowest percentage of ALICE households in the state. There were 112,542 households in Howard County in 2016.

The report highlights challenges for families who have incomes above the federal poverty line, 12.3 percent in 2017, but do not make enough money to afford basic households needs according to Franklyn Baker, president of the United Way of Central Maryland. Basic necessities include child care, food, housing, health care, transportation and a smartphone for each adult in a family, as defined by United Way.

The federal poverty level for a family of four in 2018 is $25,100, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Though the economy is certainly improving, there is still a segment of our society that continues to struggle to make ends meet,” Baker said, adding the report will spark dialogue on policy solutions, such as making the earned income tax more generous or investing more in public transportation. The organization does not endorse specific solutions.

Jay Hutchins, the acting director of the advocacy group Maryland Working Families, said the findings were not surprising. He said state leaders should adopt a paid family leave program, strengthen workers’ rights and further increase the minimum wage, $10.10 as of July.

“It’s a tale that is often overlooked, given what is perceived to be a booming or robust economy,” Hutchins said. “If you peel back the layers of the onion, and you don’t have to peel that far, there is real need that exists.”

For the Community Action Council of Howard County, an advocacy organization for low-income families and individuals, the report reinforces the increased number of residents who have been seeking assistance, according to Jen Grieb, the council’s director of development.

The council provides support for residents with housing, providing either one month’s rent or a one-time grant for eviction prevention, early childhood education, promoting school readiness for children three to five years old, food access, having the Howard County Food Bank, a community garden and partner pantries and energy and weatherization, providing financial assistance and helping homeowners and rents make their homes more energy efficient to reduce bills.

“We do have an increase in clients we are serving and [have] seen a tremendous increase in senior citizens coming to our food bank for example,” Grieb said. There has been a 5 percent increase in requests from senior citizens for assistance.

The council provided housing assistance to 337 households in the 2017-2018 year, a 16 household increase from last year, preventing 906 individual from becoming homeless. Energy assistance was provided to 5,982 households, about a 300 household increase from last year.

Providing food assistance is where the council saw the biggest jump, from last year, as the council provided about 4,000 additional individuals in fiscal 2018, a total of 30,520 residents, according to Grieb.

The council’s preschool program is both full-day and does not stop in the summer to one, allow for students to be kindergarten ready and also allow for parents to go to work.

The parents, “can hold a job while they know their children are being cared for,” Grieb said.

The county’s Department of Housing and Community Development provides $1.7 million in funding to 13 nonprofits, including the council, that support low-income families in Howard, according to Kelly Cimino, the department’s director.

“A lot of our funding focuses on eviction prevention, utilities and home repairs for seniors [citizens],” Cimino said.

When Cimino looked at trends in the report concerning the growing aging population and millennials not having sustainable incomes, is “what we are seeing even in Howard County.”

The federal poverty rate was 12.3 percent in 2017, a slight decrease from 12.7 percent in 2016, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Wednesday. For 2017, the federal median household income rose to $61,372, about $1,000 more than the $60,309 reported in 2016.

The poverty rate in Howard County was estimated to be 5.2 percent in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With reporting from The Baltimore Sun

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jnocera@baltsun.com

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