What New Census Data Say About Maine’s Economy

Today the US Census Bureau released data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) on income, health insurance coverage, and poverty. Maine ranks in the middle of the pack among states but at the bottom in New England in median household income and poverty. And while we are near the top in health insurance coverage, the 125th Maine Legislature’s decision to take away health insurance coverage for thousands of Mainers has yet to take effect and show up in the data. But how we compare to other states is only part of the story.

The other part of the story is that Maine people are no better off than they were ten years ago and, in some cases, even worse off. According to the CPS figures, median household income adjusted for inflation is roughly the same in 2010-2011 as it was back in 2000-2001. Statistically speaking, Maine’s median household income in 2010-2011 of $49,568 is no different than it was in 2000-2001. Of course, this is only the median. Many families earning less than the median have actually seen their incomes decline. Many families at the top have seen their incomes skyrocket.

Maine’s poverty rate indicates that thousands of families are worse off. In 2011, 13.4% of Mainers lived in poverty compared to 12.6% in 2010. That means that 178,000 Mainers lived in poverty in 2011, an increase of 17,000 over 2010. Technically speaking, the change from 2010 to 2011 is not statistically significant, meaning that we can’t be sure that poverty increased at all. We’ll know more when more precise data comes out next week. Regardless of whether or not the change from 2010 to 2011 is statistically significant, two-year averages show that poverty is significantly and substantially greater than it was five years ago. And the fact that over 1 in 8 Maine people lives in poverty is something that should concern us all.

What the Census data doesn’t tell us is how to address these problems. In the wake of one of the worst recessions in our nation’s history state and federal policymakers are failing. At a time like this, we know that programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, and property tax relief at the state level are vital to lifting families out of poverty and improving economic security. Health insurance coverage can be the difference between losing everything and staying on your feet both physically and financially. Investments in infrastructure and research and development not only create jobs now but support per capita income growth in the future. The LePage administration’s insistence on cutting property tax relief, eliminating health coverage for thousands of Mainers, and refusing to issue bonds is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing to promote shared prosperity. By the time the Census releases data shows how damaging these policies are, it will be too late for too many Maine families who are working harder and falling further behind.