Maine Has Too Many Children in Poverty and it Would Be Worse Without Government Intervention

It’s an exciting time of year when the US Census Bureau releases lots of great new demographic and economic data about Americans. Last week, we learned from the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) that poverty in Maine is on the rise and that the typical middle class family’s income is no higher now than it was a decade ago. At the national level, we learned that more young adults have health insurance now, thanks in no small part to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare”.

Tomorrow, September 20th, the Census Bureau will release data collected during 2011 through the American Community Survey (ACS). While last week’s CPS ASEC data was based on an annual sample of 100,000 households, the ACS samples nearly 3 million households. The ACS also produces more detailed information. That means it provides a more reliable source of information for businesses and communities in a small state like Maine.

Unlike the CPS ASEC, the ACS gives us accurate poverty rates for subgroups of Maine’s population. Along with our allies at the Maine Children’s Alliance, we are especially concerned about children living in poverty.

ACS Poverty Rates in Maine


As shown in the chart above, the latest ACS data from 2010 shows that nearly one in four children under the age of five are living in poverty in Maine. In addition, the poverty rate for all Maine children grew significantly and substantially over the last decade. Tomorrow’s data release will help us see if the growth in poverty over the last four years is showing any sign of slowing down.

Stop for a moment and let this sink in. In 2010, in a middle-income state in the richest nation in history, one out of eight people live in poverty. Nearly 1 in 4 infants and toddlers live in poverty. Try to go beyond the numbers and imagine what day-to-day life is like for these kids and their parents. It’s a man-made humanitarian disaster and it’s wrong.

Fortunately, there is some good news to be found. Poverty rates estimated by the Census Bureau are based on before-tax income and do not account for income supports like the Earned Income Tax Credit and major threads in the social safety like nutrition assistance and housing vouchers. Estimates of poverty rates that make these adjustments are significantly lower than official poverty rates, especially during the recent recession and sluggish recovery. The chart below, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, shows that our anti-poverty policies are keeping millions of families out of poverty.

Although we don’t have these alternative poverty rates for Maine, we have no reason to believe the story is any different here. Poverty in Maine is at unacceptably high levels, but it would be even worse without critical income supports like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, nutrition assistance, and housing vouchers.

Tomorrow’s ACS data release is based on one year of sampling (2011), and will give us information about the state as whole. In October, we’ll get information collected over three years (2009-2011), which will give us information at the county level. Finally, in December we’ll get detailed profiles of every community in Maine, based on a five-year sampling period (2007-2011).

Unfortunately, the US House of Representatives voted earlier this year to kill the American Community Survey. In a 21st century economy based on information, members of Congress are trying to reduce the supply of information. If we want to continue to be informed, we will have to defend the ACS against this sort reckless policymaking now and in the future.