February 21, 2020
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Maine children, young adults hit hardest by recession

BANGOR, Maine — The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau confirm that more Mainers were unemployed or underemployed, living in poverty and relying on public assistance in 2010 than in any of the previous four years.

The American Community Survey data released Thursday complement figures that have been released gradually by the Census Bureau over the last several weeks.

The survey, a random sampling of U.S. residents that is updated every year, replaces the census long form.

Among the 2010 survey highlights for Maine were:

• The median household income decreased 5.1 percent between 2007 and 2010, from $48,265 to $45,815, and remains below the national average of $50,046.

• 17.8 percent of children under age 18 in Maine were living in poverty, up from 17.1 percent in 2009 but lower than the national average (21.6 percent).

• 23.3 percent of Maine children under age 5 were living in poverty, up from 20.4 percent in 2009 but below the national average (25 percent).

• 41 percent of all children lived in low-income households, defined as 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $36,620 for a family of three.

• Only 4 percent of children in Maine were uninsured, down from a year ago and about half the national percentage of uninsured children.

Christopher “Kit” St. John, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, said the data are voluminous and hard to digest but support what economists have assumed for months.

“It’s another piece of evidence for policymakers to use,” St. John said, adding that Maine lawmakers next week will talk about bond proposals and tax reform, both of which are closely tied to considerations of economic well-being of state residents.

National trends in the American Community Survey, which was conducted from January to December 2010, suggest that young adults are feeling the effects of the recession more than any other group.

Although Maine has a smaller percentage of young adults compared with the entire country, that trend generally holds true here, too.

Of all age groups, 16- to-19-year-olds and 20- to-24-year-olds had the highest rate of unemployment in Maine, and that number has been rising.

St. John said he doesn’t believe the problem is as acute in Maine but he said there is a reason — not entirely good — for that.

“That [age] group is considerably more mobile and in many cases, they have simply moved out of state,” he said.

Dean Crocker, president of the Maine Children’s Alliance, said the new data are especially bleak for children.

“There are a disproportionately high number of children living in poverty — particularly younger children,” he said. “Because of the recession, families are struggling, and a staggering number of children have lower chances of having their basic needs met.”

Crocker said the numbers underscore the need to continue funding programs — such as food stamps, unemployment insurance and the earned income tax credit — that provide crucial services to children.

St. John added that the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 played a huge role in keeping unemployment and poverty rates from increasing further.

“Those dollars are starting to go away, but the problems are still with us,” he said.

The American Community Survey offers a wealth of socioeconomic information, broken down by state and in some cases by counties and metropolitan areas of a certain size, but its survey is more than just a snapshot of demographics. The data help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed to states every year.

George Criner, director of the economics department at the University of Maine, agreed with Crocker and St. John that entitlement programs have helped but he said many are becoming unsustainable.

“These safety net programs are now becoming major maintenance programs,” he said.

As for the recession’s effect on college students and young adults looking to enter the work force, Criner said it’s real and something he sees every day.

“There are not enough people fitting into the right jobs or willing to work,” he said. “I always pitch to students to declare a minor or get some other skill as a backup. The number of youth who don’t have a sense of how they are going to live productively is alarming.”

The American Community Survey data also shed light not just on the unemployed in Maine but on those who are in the work force.

The number of Mainers employed across all job sectors decreased steadily from 2006 to 2010 and most sharply 2008-09 and 2009-10. The agriculture, construction and manufacturing industries saw decreases while education, health care and social services saw increases.

The percentage of workers who identify as self-employed has decreased over the last five years as well, but Maine was still well above the national average in that category.

Conversely, the number of government workers has increased slightly in Maine, although that was in line with the national average.

Mainers are 25 percent more likely to be employed if they have a high school diploma or equivalent and twice as likely to be employed if they have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Links to the American Community Survey for Maine

Selected economic characteristics

Selected social characteristics

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