Nearly 23 percent of all children living in Androscoggin County are living in poverty. In Franklin County, the figure is slightly less, 21.5 percent. And, according to a recent Kids Count report, in Oxford County, it’s slightly less still, 21.1 percent.
But, what does it really mean to be poor?
Statistically speaking, it means poor nutrition, uncertain housing, lower educational achievement and higher risk of using drugs and turning to crime.
The psychological impact of that daily struggle is impossible to measure.
Being poor is no one’s goal, but it is the hard and hungry reality for thousands of Mainers and millions of Americans.
The poverty level, as defined by the federal government, is a $22,314 annual income for a family of four. That’s not enough to pay for adequate housing, food, utilities and clothing, never mind transportation and education. The result: social-service dependence for huge numbers of families and the resulting strain on taxpayers already working hard to eke out a living.
It is in everybody’s best interest to reduce poverty.
Some 12.9 percent of all Mainers were living below the poverty level in 2009, the latest state-specific figures available from the U.S. Census, a figure considerably lower than the 17.5 percent of Maine children living in poverty. Which means, in stark mathematical terms, that poverty strikes a higher percentage of children than adults in this state.
The only good thing about that 12.9 percent figure is that it’s less than the 14.3 percent figure of all Americans living below the poverty level.
It’s interesting to note that the median household income in Maine is $45,708 compared to $50,221 nationally, so Maine’s household income is less, but fewer of us live in poverty. That must say something positive about Mainers’ frugality.
The statistics across the nation are sobering.
According to the U.S. Census, in 2010, median household income declined by 2.3 percent and the poverty rate increased 0.8 percent, the third consecutive year of nationwide poverty increase. For anyone already living in poverty or hovering just above that line and hoping for better days, the downward trend must certainly be alarming.
The current poverty rate is the highest it’s been since 1993.
According to the U.S. Census, the number of people living in poverty increased for married-couple families and single-female households but remained relatively steady for single-male households. The fact that, in 2010, women who worked full-time, year-round earned, on average, 77 percent of that of men working the same hours may have something to do with higher female-household poverty.
Despite the worrisome statistics of poverty levels and household income, the unemployment rate in every Maine county has decreased ever so slightly since 2009.
In Franklin County, the unemployment rate dropped to 9.8 percent last year, down from 10.5 in 2009. In Oxford County, the rate dropped from 10.8 to 10.2 and, in Androscoggin County, the rate dropped from 8.5 to 8.1.
The statewide drop in that time was 0.3 percentage points, from 8.2 to 7.9.
That’s still very high and worthy of concern, but it’s a real shift in the steep unemployment rate between 2008 and 2009 and should, if the numbers are right, result in higher incomes and lower rates of poverty in Maine if the trend continues.
That doesn’t mean we should stop being frugal, but with continued hard work and the job-creation efforts being made on the state and national levels, maybe we can mix some hope with our thriftiness.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.