Maine’s median income falls in 2011, while poverty rate increases

Posted Sept. 20, 2012, at 6:09 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 20, 2012, at 9:56 a.m.

New numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau suggest Maine struggled through a stagnant economy in 2011, showing a decline in median household income and an increase in the number of people living below the poverty line.

Maine’s median household income in 2011 decreased 2.2 percent, from $47,069 in 2010 to $46,033, according to 2011 estimates from the American Community Survey, an annual nationwide survey that provides demographic data between the decennial census reports.

Some of Maine’s counties, including Cumberland and Penobscot counties, experienced a more precipitous drop in median household income.

In Penobscot County, median household income declined 5.3 percent between 2010 and 2011, from $42,964 to $40,669, according to the survey’s 2011 estimates.

Meanwhile, Cumberland County’s median household income decreased 4.4 percent between 2010 and 2011, from $58,562 to $55,985, according to the estimates.

Maine’s decline in household median income is not surprising given the lack of real job growth in the economy, according to Charles Colgan, a professor at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. However, it is significant, he told the Bangor Daily News. The fact median household income is “still declining by as much as 2 percent two years after the recession ended is not a good sign,” he said.

However, two counties fared well in 2011. York County increased its median household income from $54,880 in 2010 to $56,777 in 2011, an increase of nearly 3.5 percent. Colgan believes that increase is likely a result of the high proportion of retirement earnings in the county’s coastal communities. He would suspect Lincoln County experienced the same increase, though the American Community Survey 2011 estimates are not available for that county. (The survey only provides one-year estimates for six counties in Maine.)

The other county that fared well was Androscoggin County, which saw its median household income increase 8.5 percent in 2011, from $41,190 in 2010 to $44,689, according to survey estimates. Colgan wouldn’t venture a guess as to what caused that increase.

More Mainers lived in poverty in 2011 than the year before.

Last year, 14.1 percent of Mainers lived in poverty, compared with 12.9 percent the year before, according to the American Community Survey estimates. The Census Bureau uses a set of dollar value thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is in poverty.

The increase in the poverty rate is a big setback for Maine, Colgan said, noting that “14.1 percent is back to pretty much where we were a generation ago. We managed to get below that for a long time, but the recession has put us back to where we were because a lack of growth in incomes and lack of jobs and a bunch of other factors.”

The number and percentage of people in poverty increased in 17 states between 2010 and 2011, according to the Census Bureau.

The Maine county with the largest increase in the poverty rate was Aroostook County, which had 18.7 percent of residents living below the poverty line in 2011 compared with 12.9 percent in 2010, according to the survey’s estimates. Other counties also saw increases in their poverty rates between 2010 and 2011: Androscoggin (14.8 percent to 16.4 percent), Cumberland (10.4 percent to 12.7 percent), Kennebec (11 percent to 12 percent) and Penobscot (16.6 percent to 17.6 percent).

York County stood alone in decreasing its poverty rate, from 10.2 percent in 2010 to 9.7 percent in 2011, according to survey estimates.

Among single-female-parent homes where no husband was present, 30.7 percent lived below the poverty line in 2011. When children below 18 years old are added to the mix, that number increases to 39.2 percent. Those numbers, however, were relatively stable between 2010 and 2011.

“All of the numbers you’re talking about reflect the stagnant state of the economy in 2011,” Colgan said.

However, there were some bright spots in the 2011 estimates. One is that the percent of Maine residents 25 years old and older who hold at least a bachelor’s degree increased, from 26.8 percent in 2010 to 28.4 percent in 2011.

Health insurance coverage for young people also increased. Between 2009 and 2011, the percent of people age 19 to 25 who were covered by any type of health insurance increased from 74.1 percent to 81.4 percent, according to the estimates. When looking at the same population who were covered by just private insurance, the increase was from 56.3 percent to 61.1 percent.

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