WASHINGTON – Despite a drop in Maine’s average household income, and the fact that fewer people have health care, the state still ranked among the top in the nation for social and economic health, according to a United Way study released Tuesday.
The study tracked a decade of information about the state’s commitment to education, health, volunteerism, safety, environment and economics, and compared those results nationally.
Scores ranged from 0 to 1,000 with no state scoring lower than 298 or higher than 701. It gauged everything from the number of teen smokers to how long people sit in traffic. Results are supposed to highlight each state’s shortcomings and strengths, and get public policy-makers talking.
Maine received a score of 654, placing it in the top five of all 50 states. Only Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire were ahead.
Some of the factors contributing to Maine’s high ranking were: fewer teen dropouts, better math scores for eighth-graders, plenty of volunteers, and a drop in property and violent crimes.
The same study, however, indicated a sharp decline in many aspects of health care and the economy, such as the average household income, adjusted for inflation, that went from $36,378 in 1988 to $35,640 in 1998, the last year figures were recorded for the United Way survey.
Nancy Roberts, community impact director at the United Way of Eastern Maine, blamed the income dip on the paper mills that have shuttered their doors.
Service industry jobs such as restaurants and retail outlets took up employment but did not offer the same wages, said Roberts, adding that her office has been subsidizing child care and offer job retraining for those displaced workers.
Even with the economic setbacks, people still help their neighbors and that betters everyone’s quality of life, she said.
“This state takes care of its own, whether it’s shoveling someone’s driveway or looking after a neighbor’s child when they’re sick,” Roberts said. “People definitely look out for each other.”
Charitable acts and neighbors caring for neighbors is part of the reason why Maine ranked so high, said Richard Belous, vice president of research for United Way.
“Maine residents have a strong tradition for compassion and sharing,” Belous said.
On a whole, the nation’s “caring” index mirrored the same strong social and economic health found in Maine. A vibrant economy, declining rates of violent crimes and increased educational opportunities propelled the index from an average score of 510 in 1988 to 536 in 1998, an indication that life everywhere has gotten better. The report, however, cited a lack of affordable housing and a widening gap between rich and poor as problematic for all states.