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Census describes changes in county

May 30, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County residents are more educated than they were a decade ago, but it hasn't earned them much more money, according to U.S. Census statistics released Wednesday.

The newly released information from the long form of the 2000 census gives us a comprehensive picture of Washington County from income levels to commuting patterns.

Among the other things we learn about ourselves is that county workers' average commute to work has increased slightly, from 22 minutes to 25 minutes, in the 10-year period.

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In families with children, there are fewer stay-at-home parents than there were a decade ago.

Some of the most dramatic changes were in the area of education.

The percentage of Washington County adults who have a high school degree or higher increased from 69.3 percent to 77.8 percent.

County residents have greater access to higher education, especially through distance learning programs available on the Internet and on television, than they did a decade ago, said Barbara Macht, director of institutional research and planning at Hagerstown Community College.

Employers are demanding that their employees go back to school for more training, she said.

"The value of education, particularly higher education, is being realized in this community because of the demands of the labor market," Macht said.

Jim Shaw, director of Frostburg State University Center in Hagerstown, said part of the increase could also be due to more highly educated people moving into the area.

While educational attainment has grown, so have income levels, although at a much more modest pace.

The median household income in Washington County increased from $29,632 to $40,617 over the 10-year period. Most of the gain, all but about $2,100, was due to inflation.

Income per person jumped from $12,970 to $20,062. Again, inflation wiped out about half of the increase.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission has been working to boost the salaries of local workers, said Cassandra Latimer, marketing director.

Although the county has made some progress, it takes a long time to show results.

"Of course in a perfect world I'd like to see it skyrocket, but I think that's unrealistic," she said.

Doug Wright, vice chairman of the EDC, said he was disappointed by the income numbers but encouraged by the increase in educational attainment.

"It's stressful that we can't get there fast enough for the folks that are living here now. This is our top priority," he said. "I guess we just have to keep plugging away and be positive about what we can do."

While incomes increased, the county had 2,386 families living below the poverty line in 2000. The county's poverty rate dropped only slightly, from 7.2 percent to 7 percent.

The percentage of stay-at-home parents shrunk, as reflected by an increase in families where all parents worked outside the home.

In 1990, about 57.1 percent of the families reported all parents working. In 2000, that increased to 64.6 percent.

Commuting patterns for Washington County workers also changed over the last decade.

Fewer people are either carpooling, walking, or taking public transportation to work than they did in 1990, the census shows.

As a result, the proportion of people who drive to work alone increased from 75.8 percent to 80.6 percent.

Among all seven Tri-State area counties, workers in Jefferson County, W.Va., have the longest commute. They spend an average of 36.8 minutes on the road to work every day.

Workers in Franklin County, Pa., have the shortest commute in the Tri-State area, 23 minutes.

Commuting times were self-reported estimates.

Homeowners saw the value of their homes increase from 1990 to 2000. The median home value grew from $83,000 to $115,000 in the 10-year period.

However, all but about $9,000 of the increase was due to inflation. That means the average homeowner earned about 8.4 percent on his or her investment during the decade.

Roger Fairbourn, former president of Pen-Mar Regional Association of Realtors, said the county housing market boomed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but slowed over the rest of the decade.

While it's rebounding now, the market drop forced some homeowners to take large losses. There were people in Brightwood Acres east of Hagerstown who bought their homes for $270,000 and had to sell for $245,000, he said.

"It took a long time for the market to recover, but now it seems to be clipping right along," he said.

Staff writer Julie E. Greene contributed to this story.

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