At its March meeting, the Howard County Association of Community Services (ACS) presented an analysis of changes in the county’s population documented by the 2010 Census.
Speakers also discussed the revelations of the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, which focused on current and future needs in housing, health, early childhood education and income security.
Chief among the findings was that the grand total of Howard County’s population increased by 16% in the years between 2000 and 2010 with a net gain of 39,243 residents for a current population of 287,085.
As part of that change, the white, non-Hispanic cohort saw a decline of 5.6%, while the African-American demographic increased by 39%, the Asian and Pacific Islander cohort increased by 116.2% and the Hispanic population increased by 123.4%.
“This is the first time it’s happened in the county that the white, non-Hispanic population has decreased,” said Jeff Bronow, chief of the county planning and zoning department’s Division of Research.
Whereas this cohort made up more than 80% of the county’s population two decades ago, it now accounts for slightly less than 60%.
“All of Maryland, particularly central Maryland, continues to change dramatically in terms of the diversity of the population,” Bronow said. “It’s very likely that [Maryland] could be a majority minority state by the next census.”
Age and Health
Although specific details on the aging of the population have not yet been released, general information shows that only about 10% of Howard County’s residents are aged 65 or older.
“In 20 years, the 65-plus category [is expected to] grow by 119%, or 35,814 individuals,” Bronow said, and will make up roughly 19% of the community by 2030. “The big question is, are these people going to age in place? Generally most people do want to age in place.”
In its own recently-released 2010 Community Needs Assessment, the Community Action Council (CAC) of Howard County focused on the needs of people with low incomes from within the organization’s service area.
CAC board members Dr. Vernon Gray, administrator of the county’s Office of Human Rights, and Dr. Clarence Lam, a physician with The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, joined CAC President Bita Dayhoff to present some of the report’s key findings.
“Health and poverty go hand in hand,” Lam said. “Poverty increases many risks for children in terms of low birth weight, premature deliveries, learning problems, asthma and other health problems.”
Priority issues for the CAC include access to care, tobacco use, substance abuse and obesity.
“Thirteen percent of the population younger than age 65 does not have health insurance,” Lam said. “Seven percent of the population rates their health as either poor or only fair and 7.2% are Medicare beneficiaries.”
Assistance on the Rise
According to the latest census statistics, 4.1% of Howard County residents experienced poverty during the last 12 months, Dayhoff said, while 19% of households earn less than $50,000 a year.
“The number of individuals receiving temporary cash assistance from the county’s Department of Social Services has grown rapidly,” she added, rising from 821 individuals in 2007 to 1,358 in 2010.
The number of county households receiving energy assistance has risen each year as well, increasing from 2,447 in fiscal 2008 to 4,811 in fiscal 2010. The amount of financial assistance increased correspondingly from $2.6 million in 2008 to nearly $5.2 million in 2009.
The amount of assistance declined to $5.1 million in 2010, though not because of diminished need; it was because the state financial crisis meant less money was available for assistance. “There is a proposal on the table to reduce energy assistance for low income families by half, so just imagine what’s going to happen if [they] don’t have the money,” Dayhoff said.
In terms of food assistance, 6,614 individuals received 136,630 pounds of food through the CAC in 2009, while 12,599 received 295,503 pounds of food in 2010.
By far the greatest factor affecting low income families in Howard County is a lack of affordable housing, said Gray, a situation which can lead to economic insecurity and frequently poses obstacles to good nutrition, health, savings and educational opportunities.
“Home ownership is clearly out of reach for CAC clients and [rent] is the only option for them,” he said, adding that approximately 23% of the homes in Howard County are renter-occupied.
While affordable housing is defined as costing no more than 30% of one’s annual income, renters in Howard County pay an average of 46% of their income for housing.
In terms of assistance, 1,096 housing vouchers are available in Howard County, but there are 4,300 families on the waiting list. There are an additional 1,480 subsidized rental units in Howard County, 540 of which are either owned or managed by the housing commission.
As the county and state continue to struggle with revenue shortfalls and fallout from the recent recession, the CAC assessment has identified a number of recommendations to address the increasing needs of low income families. They include expansion of Head Start enrollment and establishment of Early Head Start; strategic location of food pantries across the county, specifically in Jessup, Savage, North Laurel and Elkridge; expansion of food service and school-based meal programs; and establishment of Points of Intervention at varying levels of housing instability, financial intervention and foreclosure assistance.
The CAC survey also identified a need for central information referral to better aid coordination, access and delivery of services, as well as strategic funding by major funders to eliminate duplication of service among providers.
In general, the survey’s recommendations call for increased public awareness of self-sufficiency, health care and educational assistance, as well as collaboration with state and local agencies to streamline referrals and access to health and wellness programs.
Full details of these studies are available at www.acshoco.org.