Something is rotten in the state of Maryland. Governor Martin O’Malley in recent remarks at the Center of American Progress declared, “For a stronger middle class, in Maryland, we choose to move forward.” Some indicators point to a much less rosy picture.
By some measures, Maryland is making progress. GDP has increased by 22.3% since 2006, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Apparently, Marylanders are beginning to reap the benefits of such economic growth. Even the poverty rate has decreased to 9.3% in 2011, after a high of 10.9% in 2010.
Buried in the mix of reports, however, are the enrollment figures for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. When Gov. O’Malley first took office in 2006, a total of 307,625 Marylanders had enrolled. In the immediate aftermath of the recession, that number was 589,412. Now, three years after the ravages of economic contraction, a record 773, 137 people receive SNAP benefits, according to the Department of Agriculture. Since the beginning of the O’Malley administration, the program has more than doubled. More than 1 in 10 Marylanders are in the SNAP program.
State officials have mostly been mum on the issue. After all, some have pointed out, the same Department of Agriculture statistics show that 6.14% growth in the program from 2011 to 2012 has been the slowest rate since the recession. And yet, the most recent monthly increases for 2013 have outpaced last year’s average. From last year, Maryland has the third-highest rate of growth in SNAP beneficiaries in the country (after Wyoming and Illinois). Little has been done to address the issue of why this increase in SNAP growth has persisted well after the recession.
The Maryland Department of Human Resources notes that SNAP is meant “to help low-income households buy the food they need for good health.” SNAP is meant to help those people who work for low wages, are unemployed or work part-time, are elderly or disabled, or homeless. With the aforementioned poverty rate on a downward trend and with the state economy doing well as a whole, shouldn’t less people be going on food stamps? Perhaps the forward motion described by the governor is less than remarkable.
The unemployment rate has decreased from 7.8% in 2010 to 6.8% in 2011, but the quality and nature of these new jobs is suspect. A more meaningful statistic to measure would be Maryland’s underemployment rate, as in how much of the existing labor force is underutilized. Under Governor O’Malley, the underemployment rate has skyrocketed from 7% to 13%, according to an analysis by the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute. When put in those terms, Maryland’s labor situation is worse than Virginia’s (with an underemployment rate of 11.6%) and similar to West Virginia’s condition.
Though jobs have returned to the Old Line State, average Marylanders find them working more at part-time jobs that pay less and provide fewer benefits. Marylanders find it harder to feed their families and are forced to apply for SNAP. A state in which 13.1% of its residents have a harder time putting food on the table does not sound like a state that fosters a strong middle class. The Governor may believe that his policies spurred an economic recovery, but more Marylanders are stuck in rotten conditions.