Income Inequality: We Suck

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Some depressing and telling facts came to my attention today, courtesy of Delegate Andrew Platt’s tweet this morning.

platt tweet 050515

He’s referring to this New York Times story. which reports the findings of a large and detailed study that calculates the effect that growing up in a particular county has on income results for children after they reach adulthood. The interactive part of the report is fun to play with, but the statistics are awful.

For you social science geeks, the actual 88 page report from which the NYT article and data is drawn is here.

To the data! For all kids from families in the 25th percentile for income, growing up in Montgomery County, for example, has a positive impact on income of $2,740 or 10%, better than 79% of all counties. Not bad - but not great, either, for a county that prides itself on helping people rise up from poverty.

But let’s look at Baltimore in a little more detail. It’s a disaster, particularly for boys. In Baltimore, for all kids whose family income is in the 25th percentile, there’s a negative impact to growing up in Baltimore of $4,510, or 17%. For boys, it’s even worse - an astonishing negative impact of $6,830. or 28%. For girls, the negative impact is $1,490, or 5%.

As the Times notes:

The feelings heard across Baltimore’s recent protests — of being trapped in poverty — seem to be backed up by the new data. Among the nation’s 100 largest counties, the one where children face the worst odds of escaping poverty is the city of Baltimore, the study found.

The city is especially harsh for boys: Low-income boys who grew up there in recent decades make roughly 25 percent less as adults than similar low-income boys who were born in the city and moved as small children to an average place.

The single worst place in the entire country to grow up poor. Think about that for a second. That’s appalling.

A couple of other recent reports add to the depressing reality. According to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Maryland in 2013 ranked 50th (ahead of only the District of Columbia) in the ratio of our minimum wage to the median wage actually paid here. The ratio here was 31%. The national average, by comparison, was 39%. That means Maryland is the most difficult state for someone earning the minimum wage to live in. Not a distinction we should be proud of.

By comparison, in 1979, Maryland’s minimum-to-median wage ratio was 46%, and the national average was 51%. This is a national problem, but it’s worse here than anywhere else.

A final note on our sad tour through the economic data. A March report from Pew shows that from 2000-2013, the percentage of Maryland residents falling within the definition of “middle class” dropped by almost 7%, and the percentage of households spending over 30% of their income on housing rose from 28% to 35%, an increase of 25%.

pew data 050515

So to summarize: if you’re poor and you’re trying to escape poverty, Baltimore is the worst place in the country to live. Our minimum to median wage ratio is the worst in the country. And more and more people are falling out of the middle class and spending more and more on housing costs. You think that this is a separate issue from what’s going on in Baltimore right now? I’m sorry, but you’re being naive. It’s all part of the same problem.

Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country - dwell on that for a second - but the disparities that come leaping off the page of the data I cite here make clear that we are in crisis. Only a privileged few are sharing in the bounty of that wealthy status we like to crow about. Until we find a way to spread that wealth around, to invest in places like Baltimore and other communities - including right here in “rich” Montgomery County - that desperately need the help, we are not living up to our ideals. And that’s not acceptable.

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