Looking Beyond?Baltimore

From the Eastern Shore to the Appalachian Mountains, there's much more to Maryland than its biggest?city.

By Casey Leins Staff WriterMay 14, 2019, at 12:01 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

Looking Beyond Baltimore

A waterman throws a crab trap off of boat into the Chesapeake Bay near Dundalk, Maryland.(Edwin Remsberg/UIG/Getty Images)

ELLICOTT CITY, Md.On Maryland's Assateague Island, which boasts more than 37 miles of beach on the Eastern Shore, visitors can spot some of its more than 300 wild horses roaming across the sand.

In Southern Maryland, which includes St. Mary's County, the state's capital until 1695, small, quiet towns are nearly surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay.

Western Maryland feels like a different state entirely, with its picturesque view of the Appalachian Mountains.

The state is often associated with its wealthy Washington, D.C., suburbs that are home to thousands of federal government workers, and with the city of Baltimore, known as a diverse economic hub but also for its high crime rate. But Maryland's nickname, "America in Miniature," rings true when considering a state that offers a wide variety of industries and lifestyles, helping it gain the No. 6 spot in U.S. News' 2019 Best States ranking.

Federal government activity accounts for as much as a third of the state's economy, according to Benjamin Orr, executive director of the Maryland Center on Economic Policy.

Agriculture, Cybersecurity, Tourism and More

But in regions further from the nation's capital, other key industries come into play. Maryland's Eastern Shore is dominated by agriculture and agribusiness, along with tourism. The area is home to Perdue Farms, the third-largest poultry processor in the nation.

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Ocean City is a summer hot spot for Maryland families – in fact, Gov. Larry Hogan moved the public school calendar forward a week through an executive order in 2016 so the state could reap the economic benefits of one more week of beach time.

In the far west, Garrett County is also a major tourism spot, attracting guests to Wisp Resort during ski season and to Deep Creek Lake in the warmer weather. And in southern Maryland, the federal government is a large employer, but so is the agricultural industry.

Maryland also has a strong health care industry, with Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine receiving more than 3 million patients annually, and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and National Institute of Health both located in Montgomery County.

Cybersecurity is another major economic driver, with the National Security Agency located in Fort Meade. Cybersecurity giants such as Lockheed Martin and Terbium Labs have their headquarters in Maryland, and a cybersecurity hub called "CyberTown, USA" is expected to open in Baltimore next year.

Something in Common

Though the state's regions differ greatly, their residents seem to agree on one thing: the governor.

Hogan, a Republican who was re-elected in November, has consistently polled as one of the most-liked governors in the country, despite Maryland's strong Democratic leaning. He won 21 of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions, and wore a purple tie during his acceptance speech.

"Tonight in this deep blue state, in this blue year, with a blue wave, it turns out I can surf," he said, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Under Hogan's governorship, the state has enacted a number of laws that helped advance Maryland to its high Best States ranking. Out of the eight categories U.S. News evaluated, the Old Line State ranked the highest for opportunity, earning the No. 5 spot.

The high opportunity ranking is a boon for the state's diverse population. According to William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, 15% of Maryland's population was foreign-born in 2017, making it the ninth-most diverse state.

And 60 percent of the state's population under age 10 was part of a minority group, making Maryland the eighth-most diverse state in the nation for that age group.

"A lot of people when they think about minority states, they think of Texas and California and so forth, which is true, but Maryland is in the top eight," Frey says.

The Best States opportunity category measures factors related to affordability, equality and economic opportunity. The state has the highest median household income in the nation – the state is home to the most millionaires per capita – which can be largely attributed to its high percentage of federal government workers, according to Orr. And Prince George's County is one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, majority-minority counties in the U.S., he says.

Addressing Equal Pay and Other Issues

But beyond the state's proximity to the nation's capital, Orr says the state has made legislative strides over the past few years to address issues such as the gender wage gap and food insecurity.

Morning light illuminates the hillsides near Myersville, Md.(Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

"(Addressing the gender wage gap) has been a priority of policymakers in Annapolis over the past few years, if not longer," Orr says. "We have been in coalitions with a number of other groups over the last few years working on equal pay for women and some related areas that are really important," he says, adding that the state has made progress in child care subsidies and has raised its minimum wage, which has made a difference for many working women.

"Maryland is notable for having strong equal pay laws, which may contribute to its lower (gender wage) gap," adds Vasu Reddy, senior policy council for the National Partnership for Women and Families.

In terms of food insecurity, the state opted into a federal program in which all students at schools with a certain amount of families under the poverty line receive free breakfast and free lunch.

Orr says Maryland has also invested its own money into the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The federal government provides a minimum supplement of $16 per month to eligible low-income residents, but that threshold increases to $30 per month for Maryland residents ages 63 and older.

Though Maryland ranks No. 4 for equality in the 2019 Best States rankings, gender parity in the state outpaces its racial equality measures such as educational attainment and unemployment rates.

"We have a long legislative history of segregation and other racist policies," Orr says.

One in seven black Marylanders has an income below the poverty line, compared to one in 15 white Marylanders, and black students in the state attend some of the most segregated schools with some of the least funding in America, Orr explains.

But he says Maryland lawmakers have made some progress to increase equality over recent years by participating in the DREAM Act, in which young immigrants can receive in-state public tuition rates, and a "Ban the Box" law that makes it easier for people with criminal records to gain employment.

Orr says he thinks the state has taken some positive steps to reduce inequality, but that Maryland still has many barriers to opportunity it must break down, including its tax code, which he says benefits the wealthy.

"As a state, we have a lot more work to do," Orr says.

Corrected on May 14, 2019: This article has been corrected to reflect that Maryland has the most millionaires per capita.

Casey Leins, Staff Writer

Casey Leins is a staff writer and producer at U.S. News & World Report.

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