Rising poverty and lower unemployment

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.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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Comments

Steve  Dosh's picture

Rising poverty and lower unemployment

. . 11:11 hst • weds., hump day . Macroeconomics 1 0 1 : Rising poverty and lower unemployment = raise the minimum wage . Who really wants to work at Wendy's ® ? Working poor . . . ...†hink about it a sec • Working Poor ? h t h <3 Dr. Dosh http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2010/06/30/minimum-national-wage/

 's picture

Yes they did.

Life isn't easy nobody ever said it would be.

In the 1960s LBJ began the big lie with the "Great Society" and the "War on Poverty", commencing the modern era of government dependency. Maine Democrats jumped on the liberal bandwagon in the mid 1970s, starting their 35 year march to bankruptcy which, thankfully, is finally being unraveled. Every day in public schools, our kids receive the message that, yes, life is easy, they can do whatever they want, even if there's no demand for it, they can live wherever they like, even though there are no jobs there, and government will always pull the slack, from cradle to grave. Some serious unlearning will be happening very soon.

Joe Morin's picture

True & a sign of the times

I was watching a show on the Liberty ships built during world war 2 and the number of people who relocated for the oppurtunities that came with the increase in production. Life, Liberty & the persuit of happiness. That was the original promise

Joe Morin's picture

Used to...

Poverty & poor are two different things. Poverty means that you fall below a threshold that allows you a myriad of state benefits. Poor means you don't have a lot of cash/money to spend. When I was growing up poor meant that you ate out of a trash can and lived in a box. If you live like that now typically you have mental illness and/or a substance abuse problem. I know people on food stamps that have more resources for food then I have and actually throw food away. This individual has a meat salesman that comes by once a month and stocks the fridge with tenderloin & top round. "poor nutrition" is a choice these days not an economic condition. Choosing Pepsi & Doritos over water and fruit is something we are unable to regulate. The folks just getting by are eating mac & cheese... lets throw in a can of tuna...we'll call it New Auburn caserole. My folks always worked two jobs growing up. It wasn't easy but we got by and we were better as a family for it. Life isn't easy nobody ever said it would be. People need to be willing to stand up, roll up their sleaves and truly attempt to take care of themselves. I'd bet dollars to donuts we see those percentage points creap down.

Jim Cyr's picture

Everybody's interest to reduce poverty??

It's everybody's interest for individual responsibility!! Being in poverty does not mean to live in "hopelessness" and rely on government to be the sole provider. How many in "so-called poverty" have cell phones, play stations, big screen t.v.'s, having more children to add to the dysfunctional families???? We are displacing GOD for Big Brother!

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