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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

O’Malley’s Economic Talking Point

Martin O’Malley, a Democratic candidate for president, often says Maryland earned or achieved “the highest median income of any state in America” when he was governor. In fact, Maryland had the highest median household income before O’Malley became governor.

O’Malley, who served as governor of Maryland from January 2007 to January 2015, has made his executive experience as governor and the mayor of Baltimore a centerpiece of his campaign. When rattling off statistics about his state, O’Malley frequently cites Maryland’s high median income, boasting that he was responsible for “achieving” a No. 1 ranking even after a recession and while implementing a progressive agenda.

O’Malley, Aug. 16: I’m the only candidate in our party with 15 years of executive experience, not just talking about progressive goals, but actually achieving things like the best schools in America, more affordable college, the highest median income of any state in America.

O’Malley, Oct. 11: And because of our better choices and investments, we earned for our state the highest median income in the nation.

O’Malley, Oct. 28: And we paid for it [progressive agenda]. How? We asked everybody to do another penny on their sales tax but we also asked that our wealthiest citizens to pay a higher rate on their income tax. So the top 14-15 percent of us paid more; the other 85 percent paid the same or less. And at the end of the recession and the end of those eight years our state had the highest median income of any state in America.

O’Malley is correct about the state’s median income, but some context is in order.

The O’Malley campaign cites median household income from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Maryland’s median household income was $73,971 in 2014, which was O’Malley’s last full year in office. Indeed, that was the highest in the nation. But the state’s median household income also was the highest in the nation in 2006, which was Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s last full year in office. And it was No. 1 in all the years in between.

The Census Bureau tells us that the American Community Survey is the best measure of median income, because it surveys more than 3.5 million households each year. But the ACS is a relatively new program. It was part of the bureau’s redesign of the decennial census program in the last decade and provides data that only date to 2005, so it has limited value in long-term historical comparisons.

The Census Bureau, however, also measures median household income in its annual Current Population Survey. The CPS has a much smaller sample size — just 65,000 households — than the ACS, which is why the bureau says the ACS is the best measure of median household income.

Nevertheless, the CPS is useful in making historical comparisons. The bureau’s “State Median Income” webpage has historical CPS data for median household income by state from 1984 to 2014, and it shows Maryland historically has been a high-income state. In fact, by this measure, Maryland ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in median household income in seven of the eight years before O’Malley became governor:

Year Ranking Median Household Income, 2014 Dollars
2006 2 $74,759
2005 2 $73,357
2004 1 $71,569
2003 6 $67,338
2002 1 $74,228
2001 2 $71,579
2000 1 $74,969
1999 1 $74,201

The bottom line: By either measure, Maryland is a high-income state and had been even before O’Malley took office.