Child poverty rate increases throughout the state
According to the latest study, one in five kids under the age of five in the state of Maine is currently living in poverty. The study was conducted by Maine KIDS COUNT, a project of the Maine Children's Alliance, who recently released their 2010 data book containing the current stats on the well-being of children throughout the state.
Maine KIDS COUNT is part of the national KIDS COUNT network, a state-by-state effort to track the status of children across the United States.
"In 2008, nearly one-sixth (16.5 percent) of Maine children under 18 and over one-fifth of children under the age of five (21.8 percent) were living in poverty. While the rate of poverty in older children in Maine remains below the national average, the rate for our youngest (age birth to five) has surpassed the national rate of 21.2 percent," their website states.
The number of children under 18 living in poverty has increased significantly over the years, rising from as low as 12.9 percent in 2000.
The Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center released a poverty update in 2009 that stated the current poverty guidelines for the nation. For a single individual to be considered living in poverty, he or she must have an annual income of less than $10,210. For a family of two, the amount increases to $13,690, a family of three is $17,170, a family of four $20,650 and an additional $3,480 per family member after that.
The state has battled over the poverty issue for many years. In the U.S. Census Bureau's 2010 report, Maine ranked 28th on the list of most impoverished states with a 12 percent poverty rate, slightly below the national average of 13 percent.
Of the 16 counties in Maine, only six of them have poverty levels below the state's average. These counties are all located on the southern coast of the state, most likely profiting from summer tourism and the lobster industry. However, poverty continues to be a large problem in many areas of the state, both rural and urban.
The causes of poverty differ in each region of Maine. In rural areas of northern Maine, poverty is due to a lack of access to basic utilities such as electricity, water and a sanitary sewage system. Washington County has reached a critical level with a 20.1 percent poverty rate. Even more startling is that, according to KIDS COUNT, 29.5 percent of children under 18 in Washington County are living in poverty.
With a lack of well-paying jobs, 8.5 percent of adults are unemployed, compared to the national average of 5.4 percent. This has resulted in 52.4 percent of students throughout the county receiving subsidized school lunches because they are unable to pay for one every day.
To compare these statistics with that of the least impoverished county, York, the most southern county in Maine, makes it seem hard to believe these counties are located within the same state. With a population of 200,929, York has the lowest poverty rate in the state at 10.5 percent, with a 4.9 percent unemployment rate and 30.2 percent of students receiving subsidized lunches.
Poverty has become a problem in urban areas as well. Although cities provide easier access to a job, Maine's largest cities all have poverty rates above the state's average, with the cost of living rising faster than minimum wage. A full time job at minimum wage pays well under half of a livable income in Maine.
Portland, Bangor, Lewiston and Auburn, Maine's four largest cities, account for 24.06 percent of Maine's overall child poverty. 41.68 percent of children under 18 in Lewiston alone are living in poverty, as well as 26.59 percent of children in Auburn and 26.29 percent of children in Portland, according to KIDS COUNT.
Despite efforts to fight back against poverty, the poverty levels throughout the state continue to rise every year.
The Preble Street Homeless Shelter in Portland has worked to involve and empower homeless and low-income residents throughout the area since it was founded in 1975. The mission of the shelter, as stated on its website, preblestreet.org, is "to provide accessible barrier-free services to empower people experiencing problems with homelessness, housing, hunger and poverty, and to advocate for solutions to these problems."
However, the shelter has reached a hurdle. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development recently withdrew support from the shelter's "Homeless Voices for Justice Program" because the shelter supposedly violated its grant agreement by supporting Maine's "No On One" campaign last fall.
The loss of the Roman Catholic Church's support will cost the shelter $33,000 in the upcoming year.
Anne Underwood, the co-founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality, lamented that the leading cause of homelessness among the Preble Street shelter's teen population is sexual orientation, with many being forced out of homes by their parents.
While donations have been flooding in to make up for the loss of funds, many people across the state question how the church could pull such vital funding when Maine is already in desperate need to combat poverty.
And students on the Hill don't have to travel far to understand the devastating effects poverty can have on a small town. According to city-data.com, 22.7 percent of Waterville residents were living below the poverty level as recently as 2007.
The majority of these people are children under the age of 18 (39.9 percent), while female households with no husband make up 60.3 percent of local impoverished families. Students at the College have many opportunities to help out in the Waterville community throughout the year in programs such as the Colby Volunteer Center, the Colby Waterville Alliance and especially Colby Cares About Kids, which helps to aspire the local youth who often feel the affects of poverty.