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Almost two out of five Maryland households had problems making ends meet in 2021, according to a report released in April by United Way of Central Maryland.

The results might be called arresting by the part of the population that is able to pay its bills. However, the rest of the area’s residents may have more emotional words to describe today’s economy.

The 25-page report, “ALICE In The Crosscurrents: COVID and Financial Hardship in Maryland” looks at asset-limited, income-constrained, employed households, which earn too much money to be considered impoverished by the federal government, while also earning less money than they need to survive. 

In Maryland, 28% of households in 2021 were ALICE, with an additional 10% earning below the federal poverty line.

By the UWCM’s math, that means families of four earning $91,000 or below ― in Howard County, the number is $104,000 and in Anne Arundel, it’s $97,000 ― or an individual who makes under $35,000 are having problems making ends meet.

Today, with the federal government assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic ending combined with persistent inflation, concerns about those numbers rising are intensifying.

In Howard County, 7% of households were in poverty in 2021, but another 17% were ALICE households, according to the report. That means 24% weren’t earning enough to survive.

In Anne Arundel County, 6% of households were in poverty, and another 24% were ALICE households, for a total of 30% of households struggling to pay bills.


Maryland’s high costs of simply getting by have long been more than a rumor, which was recently reinforced by the state’s rank of 44th in Affordability in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report.

UWCM President and CEO Franklyn Baker said that the $91,000 a family of four needed “was 6% less than what was needed in 2018,” adding that the Child Tax Credit and Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit helped to lower the survival budget in 2021. “There is variance between counties due to differing monthly costs like rent and child care, but the general idea is that the levels of income are not enough” to meet the needs of a basic survival budget. “And the costs are still rising.”

Those costs come from several different directions and for much of the population, it extends way beyond the basic housing and food.

“Child care is a big one,” said Baker, as it often costs almost as much as rent for a single child. “We have a UWCM Family Center that holds half of its spaces for people who are under the poverty line. After rent, child care is the second biggest cost.”

Concerning the cost of housing, UWCM offers $100 million in federal assistance over two years. The Strategic Targeted Eviction Prevention program provides back rent and up to three months of advance rent to give citizens facing that peril “a chance to find new employment and retrain, if needed,” he said. UWCM “has helped more than 12,000 households in the region and we’re still working to get funding out to those who need it.”

Another hot topic in this arena is addressing the digital divide, especially concerning its effect in the education sector.

“There’s much talk about how much time has been lost due to the shutdown and the ensuing lack of in-person classroom time,” Baker said, pointing out that “17,000 households in the Baltimore city will get free service” via a nonprofit called RowdyOrb.it, which will eventually reach the counties.

He said that race disparities “add to the hardship, as about a third of Black and Hispanic households are under the ALICE threshold, compared to 18% for white homes.

“We promote access, opportunity and equity,” Baker said. “Overall, UWCM is working to provide what’s needed, where it’s needed.”

A third

What’s needed in Anne Arundel County, which has a population of almost 600,000 residents, is “really surprising to many people who attend our presentations of our needs assessment,” said Mary Spencer, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County. 

“We have more than 200,000 ALICE (households) in Anne Arundel County. These individuals and families, despite being employed, do not earn enough to afford the five basic household necessities of housing, child care, food, transportation and health care,” said Spencer. “These families rely on public assistance and support from our vital nonprofits to survive.”

Today’s circumstances have led to “a perfect storm,” said Pam Brown, executive director of the county’s Partnership for Children, Youth & Families. “Anne Arundel is expensive to live in anyway, with outrageous rents, because we don’t have enough affordable housing,” adding that despite the recent interest rate increase, the market for housing “is not as hot as year ago, but still hot.”

Given the “very high commodity prices” and inflation, “a rising number of families are choosing between paying their rent and for food,” she said. “At any of the county’s approximately 50 pantries, we’re seeing 1,500 people show up every week.

“We tend to think that most people at pantries don’t have a job or don’t have means,” said Brown, “but today, most are our regular middle-class working families. And there are others citizens who don’t have transportation to shop around.”

To further address the issue, “We’ve started the Anne Arundel County Food Council to find long-term strategies to improve food access and security,” she said. “We’re also working with farmers to heighten food distribution and even looking for ways to catch the invasive Blue Catfish from the Chesapeake Bay and offer it at the pantries.”


From his perspective, Baker discussed how the counties are working to alleviate the issue.

“Baltimore County was our core partner concerning eviction prevention work; Howard focuses on how to help families with key expenses, including transportation and connecting people to jobs; and Anne Arundel is also trying to help in the housing arena,” he said.

In addition, “All of the counties are distributing healthy food that is customized to specific need while working with the Maryland Food Bank,” he said.

Still, the federal government possibly declaring what would seem like a merciful end to the pandemic presents a complication.

“It may keep organizations and people from accessing funding. Part of the negotiations on Capitol Hill are why doesn’t President Biden end it,” said Baker, though adding that “there are still deep pockets that can be accessed [to address those needs] and those dollars can be leveraged.”

But today, there “are still 80,000 Marylanders on the brink of losing their housing unless they get some kind of support,” he said. “We stressed that to former Gov. Larry Hogan and to Gov. Wes Moore,” he said, “and we would like to get in front of him again soon.

“The more we’re equipped with the ALICE name to create programs and services, and policy shifts,” Baker said “that lessens the expense. But if we really want to make sure we build on our successes from the pandemic, we need to elevate to profile of ALICE.”