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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Is there a place for the "working poor" in Howard County?

The poverty level in this country is rising to levels not seen since the early 1960's before the creation of the social programs of the Great Society.  Today one in five children live in poverty.  As much as we would like to think that poverty doesn't exist in Howard County a report released yesterday shows that not to be the case. The Association of Community Services of Howard County (ACS) released its report called "Making Ends Meet" that lays out the challenges faced by persons working in Howard County in low wage jobs. In Howard County 7750 families,almost 30,000 persons, are working poor families.  The study was the work of the Policy Analysis Center which is a joint effort of ACS and the Horizon Foundation. The study was conducted by Marsha R. B. Schachtel and Shelley E. Spruill of theJohns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies.  A copy of the full report can be found on the ACS website.

The Report shows how as workers increase their earnings they often lose public benefits that move them away from being self sufficient.  The loss of benefits creates real roadblocks for workers to accepting a raise or a promotion. The benefit eligibility levels for most public programs are set based on the federal poverty levels.  Those levels are often far below what a person needs to earn to live in Howard County.  An example of this is a single parent with two pre-school children.  To be self sufficient in Howard County that parent would need to make $72,000 or four times the federal poverty level for a 3 person household.  In other areas of Maryland or United States the difference between the federal poverty levels and self sufficient income could be dramatically lower.

The Report highlights some of the growing occupations that can provide a path to self sufficiency.  The following is the list of occupations with the greatest growth forecasted for the next 10 years:

Professional, Scientific & Technical Services -- 24.8%
Computer support specialists, Network & computer systems administrators

Administrative & Support Services --14.8%
Customer service representatives, Supervisors/managers of housekeeping/janitorial, Supervisors/managers of landscapers, Tree trimmers & pruners, Correctional officers, Private detectives & investigators

Finance & Insurance --5.3%
Accountants & auditors

Transportation & Warehousing --4.1%
Bus drivers, Truck drivers

Social Assistance --19.7%
School counselors, Mental health counselors, Social workers

The challenge facing the County is how do we provide the education, training and vocational supports necessary to prepare low wage earners to move into these jobs. ACS is looking to identify persons who would be interested in participating in the work, taking place over the next few months, to address these challenges and provide a smoother path to self sufficiency for Howard County workers.

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