Census Bureau Data: Poverty among Blacks and African Americans in Maine Is the Highest in the Nation

One of every two black and African American Mainers and one-third of Maine’s Native Americans live in poverty

Augusta, Maine (Monday, September 22, 2014) The poverty rate for blacks and African Americans in Maine topped 50% in 2013, the highest in the nation. These findings, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) released Thursday, raise significant concerns about the economic status of Maine’s minority population.

“While Maine has a relatively small minority population, the extraordinarily high poverty levels for blacks, African Americans, and Native Americans are cause for great concern,” said Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) Executive Director Garrett Martin. “In the case of blacks and African Americans, the poverty rate exceeds every other state by a wide margin. The finding that one out of every two black and African American Mainers lives in poverty is shocking.”

The ACS found that approximately 6,290 of Maine’s 12,397 black or African American residents lived in poverty in 2013. The official poverty rate for blacks and African Americans was 50.7% in Maine compared to 27.6% nationally. The margin of error for Maine’s rate was 10.9% meaning that actual poverty levels among blacks and African Americans could be as high as 61.6% and as low as 39.8%. No other state had a recorded poverty rate for blacks and African Americans greater than 50% and only one other state, North Dakota, exceeded 40%. The poverty rate for Native Americans in Maine was 33.6%, compared to 28.9% nationally. The Maine rate has a margin of error of 9.0% and is therefore not statistically different from the U.S. rate. The census bureau will release more reliable estimates for poverty among minority populations later this year.

“There is no obvious or legitimate explanation for why poverty is so high among blacks and African Americans in Maine,” said Rachel Talbot Ross, President of NAACP Portland. “This trend has persisted for far too long and highlights the need to take a hard look at the underlying structures and institutional biases that contribute to its continuation. Our communities have long been committed to addressing these issues but we need leadership and investment at all levels if we are to craft shared solutions that result in real progress.”

“Poverty is an unfortunate reality among communities of color here in Maine, and especially for African Americans and African immigrants,” said Alain Nahimana, Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice Organizer for the Maine People’s Alliance. “Even when Africans are well educated, they are not always able to translate that education into professional jobs in Maine, but work instead in low-paying service industries. All stakeholders need to work together in order to create the conditions for equal opportunities for all minorities in Maine through diversity and a real integration agenda”

“Maine’s economic future relies on our ability to attract and retain talented people from all over the nation and the world,” Martin added. “It also hinges on our ability to build and harness the skills and experiences of all Mainers regardless their skin color, ethnicity, place of origin, or current socio-economic status. The fact that we are coming up so short among blacks, African Americans, and Native Americans suggests that we need to create better pathways that enable all Mainers to become self-sufficient, productive, and prosperous participants in our state’s economy.”