Incomes fall, unemployment rises in Prince George's

By Zoe Tillman
The Gazette
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Although Prince George's County residents earned more money than the average American in 2009, the county's median household income dropped from the previous year while unemployment rose, according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The county's unemployment rate rose to 10.2 percent in 2009, up from 6.2 percent the previous year. And although county residents earned more money than most Americans, the average county resident took home less money in 2009 than in 2008.

The Census Bureau released the results of its 2009 American Community Survey on Sept. 28. The annual survey, which collects information on a range of topics, is smaller than the decennial census, which was completed this year and represents the official tally of the U.S. population. The results of the census are expected to be released by the end of the year.

In 2009, the American Community Survey data show that Prince George's County grew by about 14,000 residents, or 1.67 percent, from 820,852 in 2008 to 834,560 in 2009. The median household income for county residents was $69,947, compared with the national median of $50,221. However, county residents took home less money than they did in 2008, when the median household income was $72,166, representing a drop of about $2,200.

More county households relied on food stamps in 2009 -- from 4.4 percent of households in 2008 to 6.7 percent in 2009 -- and the percentage of county residents living below the poverty line went up slightly in almost every age group. Single female-headed households with young children were hit hardest, with 15.7 percent living below the poverty line in 2009, up from 10.5 percent in 2008.

The county's proximity to the federal government -- a major local employer that has not slashed jobs in the same way as have other sectors in recent years -- has kept local incomes high, said Mark Goldstein, an economist with the Maryland Department of Planning.

However, almost every other sector has suffered, which explains why the data show more county residents struggling although average incomes remained high, he added.

"Those who have federal jobs are doing relatively well," Goldstein said. "On the other hand, you can see where Maryland has been affected by the Great Recession . . . poverty is up, income is down."

County and state social services agencies have seen an increase in first-time applicants for programs such as food stamps, said Maryland Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Elyn Jones.

"These are people who, traditionally, if they had a setback, would go out and get a part-time job," Jones said. Now, she said, "they find it necessary to come into our doors."

The new data showed several other trends of interest.

In keeping with anecdotal evidence from communities throughout Prince George's, the number of Hispanic residents has grown, from 105,325 in 2008 -- or 12.8 percent of the population -- to 112,977 residents in 2009, or 13.5 percent.

Those numbers almost have doubled since 2000, when the decennial census showed 57,057 Hispanic residents living in Prince George's County, representing about 7 percent of the population.

Overall, more county residents stayed put in 2009, with the numbers of residents who reported living in the same house, county or state as they did the previous year increasing from those who reported the same in 2008.

The economic downturn is behind the lack of movement, Goldstein said, a trend he sees not just in Prince George's County but nationwide.

"There are no jobs to move to [and] people who wanted to move couldn't sell their homes," he said.

Prince George's County residents took 10 more minutes to get to work than the average American in 2009. The average commute time for county residents was 35 minutes, compared with 25 minutes nationwide and 31 minutes in Maryland, which had the second longest commute of any state.

County residents shaved one minute off their commute time from 2008, which was 36 minutes.

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