Talbot County weathers the Great Recession

Talbot County, in the middle of the Eastern Shore, occupies the economic middle as when it comes to getting through tough, economic times.

About half of the county’s households earn enough to care for a family of four, according to a study by the University of Washington, The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Maryland 2012, released Feb. 23 by the Maryland Community Action Partnership.

A family of two adults, with one baby and one pre-schooler, would need to bring in $60,675 in order to meet its needs, the report states. That includes the costs of housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and taxes.

County Council President Corey W. Pack recognized the county’s challenges while remaining cautiously optimistic about its future.

“Talbot County is probably no different than any other county in the nation,” Pack said. “We’re dealing with increasing unemployment, a down housing market and we’ve lost more commercial businesses in the last 24 months than any other time in memory.”

Pack called closed storefronts the most visible sign of the high unemployment numbers.

The county cut 11 staffed positions in its last budget because tax revenues fell in the poor economy, Pack said. “Each one is a household that’s losing their income.”

Talbot is home to 37,782, according to U.S. Census Data. The 2008-2010 American Community Survey shows that of those, 19,584 make up the county’s labor pool, and unemployment is 7.6 percent, compared to 8.3 percent nationally, but up from 2.1 percent in Talbot County in 2000.

Talbot households on average reported $89,049 in earnings in 2010, with half of county residents earning at least $62,739.

A single mother with one preschooler and one school-aged child  earning federal poverty level wages would be able to cover just over a third of her family’s needs, according to the Self Sufficiency Study.

A single individual earning the state’s minimum wage could not earn enough to get by in Talbot. At $7.25 an hour, that would provide $15,080 per year, or 63 percent of the $24,085 the Self Sufficiency Study found he would need to care for himself.

The single mother with two children could only earn 31 percent of what she needs to care for her family on that income, according to the study.

That single mother would need to earn $48,546 a year, or $22.99 an hour to get by. Those costs have increased more than 40 percent since 2001.

That does not include any money for eating out, building up a savings buffer, or taking a vacation trip down to the ocean.

The Talbot County Department of Social Services operates on about $4.1 million a year, according to Maryland Department of Human Resources data. Through this infrastructure, the department channels about $6.1 million in help with food, temporary cash assistance and foster-care funding.

There are some positive signs, though Pack isn’t ready to call it a comeback. November income tax revenues bumped upward for the first time since the recession started, though that could be a fluke. The county is also working with Shore Health to build a new hospital off Route 50 in Easton – scheduled to open in late 2015 at the earliest.

“These are times this generation hasn’t seen. Maybe people who have lived through the Great Depression would have some perspective, looking back,” Pack said. “When we get through this, I think we’re going to probably have to look at new ways of doing business.”

The University of Washington study did not determine how many working families have incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. Census Bureau data show that roughly 6,770 people in Talbot County, about 18 percent of the population, live in families with incomes less than 200 of the census poverty threshold. (For a family of four, twice the threshold would be about $44,000.) The census data count the elderly and other categories that were not included in the self-sufficiency calculations for working families.