Post-Labor Day Blues for Working Mainers: Modest Economic and Income Growth in Maine Jeopardized by Cost Increases

Augusta – The Maine Center for Economic Policy released its annual Labor Day report outlining the current status of working Mainers and the state economy. Using 2007 U.S. government data (the most current available), The State of Working Maine reveals a picture of modest overall growth in Maine, coupled with limited income gains for typical Maine households.

Median household income in Maine saw an increase of some $1200, rising by 2.7% in real terms to $45,888. Though a welcome advance for working Mainers, it is also clear that much of this increase will be erased by the sharp fuel and food costs already seen in 2008. Even as Maine families face heating and utility requirements above the national average, Maine’s median household income falls far short of the 2007 US figure, $50,740. Low incomes remain a dominant and troubling feature of Maine’s economic landscape.

“Just as with the nation as a whole, Mainers made modest gains during 2007 and that’s good,” says Kurt Wise, policy analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy. “The larger story, however, is that Maine’s median household income in 2007 is statistically indistinguishable from incomes seen in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. It’s only because incomes fell in 2006 that we can claim an increase for 2007. The fact is, after a five year period of national economic expansion, typical Mainers have made no measurable gains in their standard of living. The economy is growing, workers are more productive, but meaningful gains are not being enjoyed by regular working families. On top of that, it looks like these ‘good times’ are over; conditions are likely to deteriorate in 2008, not improve.”

Maine’s overall economy saw modest growth in 2007 as well. Generating $48.1 billion in goods and services for 2007, the Maine economy (State Gross Domestic Product) grew at a rate of 1.3%. This rate of growth, however, lagged behind both regional (2.1%) and national (2.0%) rates for the year. Again, this is not the kind of robust gains one hopes to see during a period of extended economic growth. Maine’s 2007 GDP figure trails the state’s average annual real GDP growth of 1.6% and the corresponding national figure of 2.6% during the 2001-2007 business cycle. Maine saw anemic job growth in 2007 of just 0.4%, far behind even the poor national showing of 1.1% growth.

“The Maine economy is making slow, steady progress,” says Mr. Wise. “Unfortunately, that progress is not improving the lives of regular working families to the extent that it should. And with very real uncertainties surrounding the national and global economic outlook, Maine and Mainers may well be facing harder times ahead.”

The State of Working Maine is produced by the Maine Center for Economic Policy and is part of a larger nationwide study, The State of Working America published by the Economic Policy Institute.