More St. Mary's residents living below poverty line, census data show

By Jason Babcock
The Enterprise
Thursday, October 14, 2010; SM21

The number of people living in poverty in St. Mary's County increased last year, as did the number of residents without health insurance, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

The data also show a decline in the median income for St. Mary's County, from $78,802 in 2008 to $72,474 last year.

In 2009, the number of those living below the poverty line in St. Mary's was 9 percent -- more than 9,200 people -- the highest in Southern Maryland.

The poverty rate in Charles County was 4.9 percent; in Calvert County, it was 3.9 percent, which is among the lowest 10 counties in the nation with a population of 65,000 or more. Loudoun County had the smallest percentage people living in poverty, 3.1 percent.

Nationwide last year, 14.3 percent of the population -- 42.9 million out of more than 310 million -- was considered to be in poverty, the bureau reported.

Maryland's poverty rate, 9.1 percent, was among the lowest in the country. The national average was 14.3 percent last year.

Bob Schaller, director of the St. Mary's County Department of Economic and Community Development, said 2009 "was it, the floor, the bottom of the barrel. We knew the '09 data was not going to be good. It's discouraging, but, hopefully, it's behind us."

The number of people in St. Mary's without health insurance also increased. The survey reported that 8.3 percent of the county (8,098 people) had no insurance in 2009, up from 6 percent in 2008. The rate of uninsured residents in Charles was 9.4 percent (13,145 people), compared with 6.6 percent in 2008. In Calvert, 8 percent of the population (7,004 people) had no insurance last year, up from 7.3 percent in 2008.

The Maryland average of uninsured was 11 percent.

Officials of the St. Mary's Department of Social Services reported that the number of cases the department has handled this year had already exceeded last year's total.

"There has been an increase and we're still increasing," said Ella May Russell, department director.

In St. Mary's, 531 families or individuals are receiving temporary assistance. The number was 457 last year.

The number of those receiving food stamps went up 33 percent from 2007 to 2009, said Elizabeth Donovan, assistant director for family investment and child support.

"The people who are coming in now . . . are people who have never been here before," she said. Those seeking assistance have depleted their savings and retirement funds, and are losing their homes or moving back with their parents, she said.

Charles had the longest average commute time in the nation at 43.2 minutes, according to the community survey. The average in Calvert was 39 minutes; in St. Mary's, it was 29.4 minutes.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company