For Many Marylanders, Prosperity is Still Out of Reach

August 28, 2017 by Ellen Hutton in Blog, Economic Opportunity

Marylanders overall tend to fare better financially than the average American, according to the latest Prosperity Now Scorecard. However, even as prosperity increases in Maryland, the racial wealth gap continues to widen.

Households of color in Maryland are more than twice as likely as white households to lack the liquid assets to live above the poverty level for three months if they suddenly lose their income. An unexpected financial crisis, such as the loss of a job or a serious health problem, could leave these households unable to afford the necessities. White households have an average net worth that is almost eight times higher than that of households of color.

Maryland has better health outcomes and a lower uninsured rate than much of the rest of the United States. Despite this, Marylanders of color are 3.2 times more likely than whites to not have health insurance coverage, well above the national average. The uninsured rate for the bottom 20 percent of earners is also higher in Maryland than the national average.

The high cost of housing is a problem for Marylanders, with more than half of all renters spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing (the amount housing experts consider affordable). Rates of delinquent mortgage loans and foreclosures are higher than the national average. Maryland ranks 39th for affordability of homes, and households of color and low-income households are the most negatively affected.

Policy Options

Maryland has adopted 33 of the 53 policies Prosperity Now recommends that states adopt to protect the financial security of their residents. However, there are a few policies that Maryland has yet to adopt that would make a significant difference in the lives of low-income Marylanders and help close the racial wealth gap.

Expanding the EITC

Maryland’s Earned Income Tax Credit has already made a difference in the lives of many low-income families. However, young workers and individuals who don’t claim dependent children are often not eligible for the EITC or get a very small credit. Expanding the availability of the credit would allow more low-income workers to keep more of their money to pay for necessities like housing and health care.

Raising the minimum wage and indexing to inflation

Ensuring that all Marylanders who work full time can earn a living wage will help to close the wealth gap. Although the statewide minimum wage increased this summer, the current rate of $10.10 an hour still leaves many workers unable to afford the basic necessities without working overtime or more than one job.

Paid sick leave

Without access to paid sick leave, 750,000 Marylanders have to choose between a paycheck and caring for themselves or a family member when they become ill. For these individuals, missing work because of an illness can even mean losing their job. If Governor Hogan had not vetoed it, the Healthy Working Families Act would have guaranteed paid sick leave for more than 500,000 of those currently without access to it. Overturning that veto should be a top priority for legislators at the start of the 2018 session.

Discrimination protection for low income renters

The demand for Housing Choice Vouchers, which help low-income families afford market rate rents, always outstrips their supply in Maryland, as in other states. Many of those who qualify will spend long periods of time on a waiting list before being able to access the program. Once they are finally able to obtain a voucher, many people face discrimination that limits their rental unit options. Landlords and rental management companies may refuse to offer leases to renters with housing vouchers.

A bill introduced during the 2017 legislative session would have prevented landlords from discriminating against renters based on the source of their income, but ultimately did not pass. Legislators should  protect renters using housing vouchers to ensure that they have access to affordable and safe housing, as the program intended.