Maryland Kids Under 5 Have Lowest Poverty Rate in Nation

By BEN MEYERSON, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON (Jan. 9, 2008) - Maryland had the lowest percentage of children younger than 5 living in poverty of any of the United States in 2005, according to new estimates from the Census Bureau.

The survey said 12.2 percent of children under 5 lived below the poverty line in Maryland, compared to a national average of 21.3 percent, according to a survey released by the Census Bureau's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program.

Maryland also had the second-lowest overall poverty rate in the nation, as well as the second-highest median household income, according to the survey.

The state moved up the ladder in each of these categories from 2004's survey, which might lead some to believe the state's welfare programs are doing well, according to Daraius Irani, director of applied economics at the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.

But Irani said the state should be wary of how it interprets the survey.

"Arguably, if you're looking at data that says programs we've been putting in place are successful, it could say that we don't need to increase them," Irani said.

To change more than that, he said, would be a mistake.

"We wouldn't want this to be taken as a sign we should cut poverty programs in Maryland," he said. "Hopefully this doesn't mask some of the issues going on in Baltimore," where the survey said the overall poverty rate was 22.2 percent. The state average was 8.3 percent.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., agreed that while the survey is encouraging, it's not yet time to declare a victory.

"We have quite a distance to go . . . before every child across our state and across the country obtains the health care, nutrition, education, housing and overall support they need to fulfill their basic needs and reach their greatest potential," Cardin said in an e-mailed statement.

Matthew Joseph, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth in Maryland, said that because of the state's wealth, the low poverty rates don't surprise him.

But, he said, the surveys shouldn't necessarily be taken at face value. Advocates for Children and Youth periodically calculates the cost of raising a family in Maryland, and Joseph said the group found it's significantly higher in Maryland than the federally-established poverty line, which is $20,650 for a family of four.

"Maryland is one of the highest-cost states in the country to live in," Joseph said. "Depending on the jurisdiction, (the cost of living) could be two to three times the federal poverty level."

Consequently, the data could be deceiving, he said.

"It's not really as accurate to look at a national standard given the higher cost," Joseph said. "If you really factored that in, you'd find there are many, many more families affected."

Maryland's shift could also be attributed to a change in the main source of the survey's data, Census Bureau Survey Statistician Craig Cruse said.

"We have a data source that's much more rich and robust," Cruse said, to the tune of roughly 3 million people surveyed as opposed to 100,000. "It gives us a source of much more reliable and accurate data."

As for the delay in the report's release, Cruse said his program hopes to publish two year's worth of surveys in 2008 to catch up.

"Up to this date, it's just been a matter of getting all the data together."

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