Bad News: Poverty Up, Income Down

The latest data from the Census Bureau show no improvement in two key indicators of economic well-being for Mainers. The poverty rate continues to rise and is higher than it was in the depths of the most recent recession. Child poverty is rising too—more than 1 in 5 children (more than 1 in 4 under age 5) live in poverty. Income for the typical Maine household is below pre-recession levels, roughly equal to levels seen in the late 1980s and the mid-to-late 1990s, and shows no signs of growth.


On September 17, the Census Bureau released its Current Population Survey (CPS), the traditional data source for the official poverty rate.  However, the bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) data, released on September 19, are more reliable for measuring poverty in Maine. The CPS is useful for identifying longer-term Maine poverty trends beginning before 2000, but the ACS samples thirty times as many households as the CPS and therefore is more appropriate for recent year-over-year comparisons at the state level. In fact, the Census Bureau recommends the use of the ACS for subnational poverty analysis.

The main takeaway from the ACS poverty data is that Maine has a large and growing poverty problem. Overall, 14.7% of Mainers live in poverty. That’s about 190,000 adults and children, combined. More than 50,000 Maine children—20.9%, or about 1 in 5— live in poverty, and more than 1 in 4 (26.9%) of children under 5 live in poverty.

These figures are getting worse, not better: poverty rates for children and adults alike are greater than they were just four years ago in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession. In addition, Maine had the 11th largest increase the rate of child poverty from 2007-2012.


CPS statistics show that median household income in the 2011-2012 two-year period is about the same as it was in the late 1980’s. See the chart below.


This isn’t news. Most people know that middle-class incomes have stagnated for over twenty-five years now. But the latest data from the ACS show no sign of recovery in income growth for the typical Mainer. Median household income in Maine was $46,709 in 2012, significantly lower than pre-recession levels and significantly lower than in 2008, 2009, and 2010—the immediate aftermath of the recent financial crisis and recession.