Newly Released American Community Service Poverty Data a “Wake Up Call to Policy Makers in Washington and Augusta”

Representatives from MECEP, MCA, MEJP and MCAA react to disappointing findings about poverty in Maine and America
Augusta, Maine (Thursday, September 22, 2011)- Data released today from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey confirm and provide more insight into the current level of poverty in Maine and across the nation.  Representatives from the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP), Maine Children’s Alliance (MCA), Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP) and Maine Community Action Association (MCAA) discussed the findings at a State House media briefing. 

“This is a wake up call for policymakers in Washington and Augusta, who will be considering the future of these programs over the next weeks and months, as well as other measures to grow jobs and stimulate the economy,” said MECEP Executive Director Christopher St. John.  “The data released today should give them all the information they need to redouble their efforts to maintain the safety net programs upon which too many households must rely, and to grow the jobs that will raise living standards for everyone. In the richest country in the world and our resourceful state, we can and must do better.”

St. John emphasized that while the recession technically ended in 2009, over 100,000 Mainers remain unemployed, underemployed, or discouraged from looking for work within their area and skills. He also noted that median household incomes fell nationally in 2010, and have fallen significantly from their 2007 peak in Maine, from $48,265 to $45,815.

“This survey gives us a clear picture of how kids are faring in Maine and across the country, and the picture is not good,” said MCA President/CEO Dean Crocker. “There are a disproportionately high number of children living in poverty—particularly younger children. Because of the recession, families are struggling, and a staggering number of children have lower chances of having their basic needs met.”

Claire Berkowitz, MCA’s Kids Count Coordinator, cited findings that the median household income in Maine has dropped by 5.1 percent since 2007; the same downward trend is happening across the country. The poverty rate for children under 18 in Maine rose to 17.8 percent—and is even higher for kids under age 5 at 23.3 percent. A startling 41 percent of children in Maine are living at low-income levels.

“This information is particularly important as Congress and the President propose to lower the federal deficit over the next decade,” said Ana Hicks, MEJP Senior Policy Analyst.  “If we want to help people to get back to work and be able to support their families, our policies must not exacerbate the problem by forcing more people into poverty.  We must protect and invest in vital programs that are successfully keeping families out of poverty.”

Hicks noted that the new data shows that in 2010 nationwide unemployment insurance kept 3.2 million people out of poverty, the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit kept 5.4 million people out of poverty and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, kept 3.9 million people out of poverty.  

“The new poverty rates, 12.9% or over 167,000 people, as sad and disappointing as they are, are not surprising to the members of MCAA,” said Pat Kosma, President of the MCAA and Executive Director of Kennebec Valley Community Action Program.  “We provide a variety of services to low and moderate income Maine residents, including applications for the low income heating assistance program (LIHEAP), housing and weatherization, health care, transportation, and child care/Head Start. We have seen a steady increase in demand for our services ever since the economy first entered recession in 2008.”

MCAA’s 10 agencies serve 180,000 Maine residents each year in over 100 locations across all 16 counties.