Financial Planning

Md. tops in household income. What’s the bad news?

HouseholdStatistics are funny things. They reveal a lot about ourselves and our world, but sometimes they hide even more.

“Say you were standing with one foot in the oven and one foot in an ice bucket," former Major League player, manager and executive Bobby Bragan once quipped. "According to the percentage people, you would be perfectly comfortable.”

Case in point: The latest American Community Survey figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. If you like stats, you'll love this survey. It includes data on health insurance coverage, marriage, multigenerational households, veteran disabilities, citizenship and more.

The really interesting numbers, though -- to me, anyway -- centered on household income. For the third year in a row, Maryland has the highest median household income in the nation, at $70,545.

In a state that's enduring its share of financial hardship lately, that's certainly a bit of good news.

A deeper look tells us not to celebrate too much, though.

First, there's the cost-of-living factor; it's awfully high in Maryland, and that takes a bite out of those fat paychecks. In fact, reports CNNMoney's Les Christie, "once purchasing power is taken into account, Southern and Midwestern states become much better bargains (than Maryland)."

Then there's this:

"Brookings Institute demographer William Frey notes that the current economic downturn may have actually given these median income levels a boost," Christie writes. "That's because when times get tough, many of the lowest-paying jobs disappear, artificially boosting income statistics."

Thanks for bursting our balloon, William Frey.

Still, all things being equal, I'm pretty sure Marylanders agree it's better to be No. 1 than to not be No. 1, right? Especially with economic recovery knocking at our door.

Want to know more?
Check out "Everyday Economics," a Ron Baker-led program scheduled for Sept. 30 in Columbia. Get details and register here.


Bill Sheridan