Poverty in Maryland and country rising at alarming rate

More Maryland residents are living in poverty than live in Anne Arundel County.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 9.1 percent of Maryland people lived in poverty during 2008 and 2009. That’s an increase from 8.6 percent in the 2006-2007 period. This means that 543,000 people in Maryland are living in poverty. Anne Arundel County has an estimated population of 521,209.

The number of Americans living in poverty rose in 2009 to 43.6 million people, or 14.3 percent of the population. That contrasts with 2008 numbers that said 13.2 percent of the population was living in poverty.

The poverty level is $22,000 for about a family of four.

Catholic Charities USA planned a Sept. 21 release of its 2009 survey of agencies and affiliates. The agency said more than 9 million people nationwide sought services in 2009, a 7.5 percent jump from the previous year.

Father Larry Snyder, Catholic Charities USA’s’ president, called the census numbers “staggering.”

The Census Bureau also reported that 50.7 million Americans, a record number, had no health insurance. The number of uninsured is the highest since the Census Bureau began compiling such data in 1987.

John Schiavone, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, said his organization is feeling the impact of the state’s struggles. His organization has helped individuals and families suffering from poverty since 1865.

“The pressure is enormous on our programs,” said Schiavone.

The organization’s Home Connections permanent housing program, serving the chronically homeless, has a waiting list of 500 people for its 60 beds.

Sarah’s Hope, the organization’s emergency shelter for families, has seen the number of turnaways for the 75 beds spike to 600 per month. It’s Learn to Earn employment development program has 10 slots, but 125 individuals show up for training programs.

“It’s not easy,” Schiavone said. “When you’re not able to offer services, it’s frustrating. We’re doing the best job we can with the resources we have. It can be overwhelming at times, but it’s even more difficult for people without jobs.”

People are still giving to St. Vincent de Paul, but perhaps not at same levels they were able to in the past

Schiavone said many struggling are “working poor” not making enough money to support their families.

“I think the problem is bigger than any single organization,” Schiavone said. “We’re in a sort of tidal wave of economic stress. The way out of this is beyond our means.”

Schiavone believes Maryland’s proximity to Washington area jobs might have kept it from equaling the nation’s poverty percentage. D.C. saw a decrease in poverty from 18 to 17 percent, but Virginia increased from 8.6 percent to 10.5 percent.

“It certainly reinforces the idea that safety net services like St. Vince de Paul are critically important,” Schiavone said of the all the numbers. “It instills in us a feeling that what we do is relevant. We continue to do the best job we can.”

For more information on St. Vincent de Paul, vincentbaltimore.org.

Catholic News Service contributed to this article.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.