A new report has revealed that tens of thousands of Maryland households were financially insecure by the pandemic. According to the report, nearly 900,000 households in the state are now considered financially insecure, an increase of 70,000 since the beginning of COVID-19.
The “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” project was initiated by the United Way of Northern New Jersey in 2009. The report aimed to capture the financial circumstances of working people who still cannot afford the basics, such as housing, food, health care, and child care.
The report found that overall, nearly 40% of households in Maryland were financially insecure in 2021. Of these, 10% were below the Federal Poverty Level, and another 28% were in the category experiencing difficulties. The report also noted that among the 20 most common occupations in Maryland in 2021, 55% paid less than $20 an hour.
Franklyn Baker, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Maryland, stated that while living wage advocates have attempted to raise the minimum wage closer to $20 an hour, it is still insufficient in many places. “There’s this hyper fixation around the country on the term living wage or thriving wage or survivable wage,” Baker observed.
“But at the end of the day, $20 per hour is still not at a place where you’re really thriving as a family. And so you’re really just trying to survive at 20 bucks an hour.”
The report also highlighted the issue of benefits cliffs. While many people in poverty, or just above the Federal Poverty Line, qualify for federal and state benefits such as SNAP or Medicaid, many middle-income households do not. Workers who get a raise or are promoted often face a sudden benefits drop. Baker argued that legislators need to change the eligibility requirements so that the impact of benefits loss is more gradual.
“There’s legislation in many states in the queue or has already been passed that essentially can delay the impact,” Baker explained. “Instead of an immediate impact, it’s over multiple years. So it’s a gradual hit in the loss of eligibility for certain benefits they’ve become reliant upon.”
During the pandemic, many households were kept afloat by expanded federal support which has since ended. The study’s authors estimated that the cost of living for a family of four renting a residence in the state in 2021 was more than $80,000 per year. Incomes that provided a middle-class living a few years ago now leave families struggling to make ends meet and leave almost no room for savings, they added.
The report concludes that the pandemic has exposed deep-seated inequities that have long existed in the country. “To fully address these inequities, policies, and systems must be reimagined, focusing on equity, justice, and inclusion,” the authors wrote.
The report’s findings underscore the need for government officials to address the systemic issues that lead to financial insecurity, including raising the minimum wage, reforming benefit eligibility requirements, and creating policies that help working families make ends meet. As the state and the nation continue to recover from the pandemic, policymakers must make concerted efforts to ensure that families across Maryland can achieve financial stability and security.