AUGUSTA, Maine — The ranks of the nation’s poor have swelled to a record 46.2 million — nearly 1 in 6 Americans, according to a Census Bureau report released Tuesday. And the number without health insurance has reached 49.9 million, the most in over two decades.
The figures, based on the 2010 census, also show more Mainers living in poverty, but in a departure from the national trend, fewer Mainers were lacking health insurance.
About 161,000 Mainers lived in poverty in 2010, according to the report. The poverty rate of 12.5 percent was up from 11.4 percent in 2009. Maine’s 2010 poverty rate still was lower than that national rate of 15.1 percent.
Advocates for low-income people in Maine said the recession and high unemployment have driven the poverty rate up.
“With unemployment at 9.6 percent nationally and 7.7 percent in Maine, it is not surprising that more people have fallen below the poverty level and that family incomes are hardly growing,” said Christopher St. John, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy. St. John said the trends should signal Congress to pass President Barack Obama’s job creation legislation.
The census data also show about 121,000 Maine residents, or 9.4 percent, lacked health insurance in 2010, a slight improvement from the 9.9 percent rate in 2009. The figures show a bigger improvement since 2000, when 10.4 percent of Mainers lacked coverage.
Maine’s improved figures reflect a shift of its insured population from private companies to public programs, said Joseph Bruno, chairman of the Dirigo Health board, which oversees a state program aimed at providing health insurance to those who lack it. The shift accounts for a rise in the number of people who receive MaineCare, the state’s Medicare program, he said.
“While it’s a good thing we have more people insured, when you look at it from a budgetary perspective it’s difficult to sustain,” said Bruno.
Maine’s health insurance coverage rate still puts it among the six states with the highest health insurance coverage rates, noted Ana Hicks of Maine Equal Justice Partners.
“This new census data reinforces the critical role that Medicaid plays in providing health insurance coverage to children and families,” said Hicks.
By comparison, 16.3 percent of Americans had no health insurance in 2010.