AUGUSTA, Maine — The recession has taken a toll on children in Maine and other states, advocates said as a report showing a 42 percent rise in the number of children living in poverty in the state was released Wednesday.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “Kids Count” report points to an increase in Maine children living in poverty, from 12 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2009. Maine’s 42 percent increase was much larger than the corresponding national increase of 18 percent during the same period. The report sets the poverty line at an annual income below $21,756 for a family of two adults and two children.
“Children are feeling the effects of the recession all across the country,” said Dean Crocker, president of Maine Children’s Alliance.
Overall, the report ranks Maine No. 11 among the states in several measures of children’s well-being, but finds troubling trends in child poverty and other areas.
The infant mortality rate rose by 29 percent between 2000 and 2007, from 4.9 to 6.3 deaths per 1,000 live births. Maine’s increase was the largest in all states and also contrasted with the national trend, which saw an infant mortality decrease of 1 percent during the same period. Maine’s percentage of low birth-weight babies also rose 12 percent between 2000 and 2008, higher than the national figure of 8 percent.
On the positive side, Maine’s child death rate dropped sharply, by 24 percent between 2000 and 2007, while the teen death rate saw a 14 percent drop. Both of Maine’s figures were better than the national rates.
In another area, the percent of children living in single family homes rose 38 percent in Maine between 2000 and 2009, compared to the national increase of only 10 percent.
“The recession hit vulnerable families hard, and unemployment and foreclosure starts remain high,” the report says. It says many of the social and economic gains for children during the 1990s “stalled even before the economic downturn began.”
In Maine, the report suggests a need for more support for Maine’s youngest children, said Crocker.
“When the rate of kids living in poverty increases by 42 percent, that’s a significant problem,” said Crocker. Poverty is closely linked to health and educational achievement, he said. “It’s the starting point to a child’s progress toward adulthood, which means it ultimately shapes our state’s future.”
The private, charitable Casey foundation was founded in 1948.