As knowledge increases in Frederick County about the driving forces, psychology and barriers to leaving poverty, the number of people living on the economic and social margin continues to grow.

More Frederick County residents are impoverished than five years ago, according to census data. The increase in people below the federal poverty line is almost universal across race and gender.

On Friday morning, approximately 40 nonprofit and community leaders gathered in a Frederick Community College conference room to learn how to better address the needs of these residents. The challenge is complex, requiring action on individual, community and institutional levels, along with organizations working together, said Kelly Overholtzer, case manager at Seton Center.

Seton Center in Emmitsburg put on the Friday training. Overholtzer said the seminar was to get more people to adopt the “Bridges Out of Poverty” framework used by Seton Center in its work engaging people to address the root causes of poverty. The hope is to make the program a county-wide initiative like in neighboring Howard County, Overholtzer said.

“Poverty is not about how much money you have but how much a person, community or institution does without resources,” she said.

Some of those resources include financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical and support systems. Solutions to poverty involve removing barriers in each of those resources, Overholtzer said.

The federal poverty line is an income of $12,140 a year for a single household and $25,100 for a household of four. In 2012, 6,571 people in Frederick city and 13,091 in Frederick County were below the line. That number rose to 7,713 and 17,336 in 2017. The increase was greater than the overall level of growth in the area, too. In 2012, 5.7 percent of Frederick County residents were living in poverty. Today, 7.2 percent do.

Local leaders said transportation issues, child care costs and the lack of affordable housing options in the area are some of the main factors pushing people into poverty. The cost of living in Frederick County is rising while wages are not, said Mike Spurrier, Frederick Community Action Agency director. The living wage in the county is $16.81 an hour.

“People are struggling to find jobs that pay a living wage,” he said. “Even something simple like transportation can be a barrier for many people to get to a job.”

Frederick is a vulnerable place to live because of rising costs of living, said Ken Allread, Advocates for Homeless Families executive director. His program is seeing an increasing number of clients whose poverty is not the result of the stereotypical ideas associated with poverty — such as alcoholism or drug addiction — but rather from problems related to opportunity, such as working a low-paying job to support a family and having to put off further education.

There is rarely a single, isolated factor, except in cases of domestic violence, that causes poverty, Allread said. The reasons often contribute to one another — a low-paying job limits housing options or affording child care, avoiding treatment for a health issue can lead to later problems that cause a person to miss work or lose a job.

“Everyone we see has four or more of those circumstances,” Allread said.

Nick Brown, Religious Coalition executive director, said he was not surprised to learn about the growing number of impoverished county residents. The number of people asking for help through the Religious Coalition’s short-term rental assistance program spiked in the summer. Instead of distributing around $20,000 a month to help people avoid an eviction with a check up to $500, the organization was spending $40,000 a month.

“We definitely saw our resources dwindling,” Brown said. “We had to actually restrict a couple times ... how much we could do because of the strain on resources here.”

And the requests did not stop, Brown said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines being “cost burdened” by housing if a person is paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing. Almost half of renters in Frederick County are cost burdened, according to a county needs assessment in 2016.

The median gross rent in Frederick County has risen by 23 percent since 2009 — $1,084 to $1,338 — according to census data. The county faces a 5,700-unit shortage of affordable housing units, after including units currently under construction, according to the county needs assessment.

Brown said his organization is preparing to better withstand increasing needs in the community, but predicting when those changes will come and what they will need is difficult. Looking back, there is no pattern or trend, he said.

“Everybody says the economy is doing great, or it was at least doing great, but we really didn’t see that in the folks we’re helping here,” Brown said. “The folks that are marginally hanging on feel any changes a little more than some of the other middle-class or upper folks may be.”

While poverty can become a political issue, which each party champions its solution over the other party, Overholtzer said, the problem is more complex and requires a solution beyond telling someone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps or changing social structures.

Follow Wyatt Massey on Twitter: @News4Mass.

(9) comments


It would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between the rising poverty in Frederick County and “deaths of despair,” deaths from suicide, alcohol abuse and drug abuse.


Seems like a safe bet Karl.

The following is a key part of the NPR interview you linked to:

"If you go back to the early '70s when you had the so-called blue-collar aristocrats, those jobs have slowly crumbled away and many more men are finding themselves in a much more hostile labor market with lower wages, lower quality and less permanent jobs. That's made it harder for them to get married. They don't get to know their own kids. There's a lot of social dysfunction building up over time. There's a sense that these people have lost this sense of status and belonging. And these are classic preconditions for suicide."

This is related to the subject of illegal immigration discussed in the comments on this article:

In one of my comments there, I said (in part): "I am concerned about overpopulation; security/safety; costs associated with illegal immigration; and unemployment/lower wages -- in that order."

Perhaps I should move 'unemployment/lower wages' up a notch, because regardless of the rhetoric, Americans *will* "do those jobs" if they pay a living wage (or better). Unfortunately, greedy, short-sighted employers are willing to break our laws and exploit undocumented aliens (IRS term). As long as people are able to sneak into the country relatively easily, and employers can get away with hiring them and paying minimum wage (or less under the table); offering no health insurance or other benefits -- of course most Americans will not do those jobs.

However, if E-Verify were strictly enforced -- as in heavy fines and prison time -- then employers would have no choice but to pay a living wage and offer reasonable benefits to attract applicants who are American citizens.

Until that happens, unemployment -- particularly among those with less education and/or fewer skills will continue to increase -- and so will “deaths of despair”.


Good point jerseygrl42.


More detailed analysis of the data or more detailed data is needed if not there. For example is poverty in Frederick rising in part due to people moving out of Montgomery County? Are people already living in poverty having children thus pushing them further into poverty? How many people were living above the poverty line, then had children pushing them below the poverty line? Is the seemingly rapid growth of the county allowed in part by policies put in place by the politicians a significant factor in the observed increases in rent? Much more information is needed or additional analysis is needed in order to intelligently address then issue.


Great comment MD1756!

I am thinking along the same lines.

* It is reasonable to assume that a HUGE factor is the fact that FredCo has largely turned into a bedroom community for commuters who work in Baltimore; D.C.; and NOVA. Many of those people earn significantly more than the average job in FredCo pays. In fact, that's the primary reason they move here -- they can get the same house for less money (or more house for the same money) when compared to the urban areas.

Many do not accurately account for the cost of commuting ($0.55 per mile or more; their time away from home; Metro fares and parking). If they did, many would not move here, but that's another subject.

All of that "big city" money flooding into little ol' FredCo drives the cost of housing up to the point where existing residents -- some of whom come from families who have been here for generations -- are forced against their will to move out. If they refuse to move further away from the cities so they can stay near family and friends, they may end up living in poverty.

That's considered to be just the cost of "progress". Growth is good, remember?

I'll admit that Frederick City has been improved in some ways by the influx of investment, but the fact that it is becoming the next hip/trendy place to live is driving the cost of living up even further.

The only solution I can think of is encouraging gov't agencies and large private employers to locate elsewhere -- in rural areas and the "Rust Belt" cities -- places that are economically depressed and need a boost.

Otherwise, we will get more of the same, until few original FredCo families and farms are left, and all we have is residential housing and strip malls from Urbana to the Mason-Dixon line and beyond.

* It is insanely expensive to raise children. Most studies I've seen say $200K or more to raise a child to age 18! College tuition is additional. As are any costs if they continue to live at home or return home.

I have to say, it's hard to have much sympathy for people who have more children that they can afford. There is simply no excuse for that. Birth control is readily available.

How many families are living in poverty (at least in part) because they are too large?

America and the world are severely overpopulated. People have the right to have as many kids as they can afford to raise (without public assistance) but it is important to keep in mind that having children is not doing society any favors. In fact, it is the absolute worst thing a couple can do with respect to the environment. One can recycle, walk, ride a bike, drive an electric car, live in a tent, be a vegetarian, etc, and any good they've done will be more than wiped out by having a child -- let alone more than 1 or 2 per couple.

As MD1756 pointed out, there are many factors involved. The two above are huge, but my guess is they will get little if any mention. Especially family size and overpopulation. No one wants to touch that with a 10' pole, but almost all of our most serious problems are a direct result of overpopulation -- too many people and too few resources.

Sadly, if history is any guide, the elephant in the room will continue to be ignored and the problems will continue to get worse.


Funny how the statistics show that the majority increase were White and that the other races basically stayed at the same level. What does that mean? More Whites continuing to live outside their means? More whites moving into the county expecting a lower cost of living and then living outside their means? Who knows?


Wyatt, one important piece you failed to mention is whether or not the folks in poverty work or not; you probably aren't aware that more than 85 Million folks of working age in this country choose NOT to work but rather in many cases to live on welfare paid for by working folks and those who choose NOT to work are not counted on the unemployment rolls but they make up almost 40 % of working age folks and this decision surely has a significant impact on poverty as well as those paying for it out of their taxes....


Jerseygrl42, curious about the source for those statistics. Please provide. Thank you.


Good luck. Some of us have been asking for citations for years. We know the “working age” number includes people in high school and practically everyone from 65 to 120 years of age.

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