July 16, 2020

Report on impoverished families shows decline

PORTLAND – The percentage of families living in poverty is going down in Maine, according to a new report by the U.S. Census.

The report estimates that 14.9 percent of Maine families with children ages 5 to 17 were living in poverty in 1997. That is down from 16.2 percent in 1995 and 19.4 percent in 1993.

The report examines information from 15,000 school districts in the country and is used by the Department of Education to allocate funds to help poor children.

U.S. Census statistician Paul Siegel cautioned that the results have a wide margin of error. But he said that there was a peak in poverty in 1993, when 39.3 million people nationwide were at or below the poverty level.

The decreasing percentage of children in poverty reflects a healthy business climate, according to Michael Hillard, a University of Southern Maine associate professor of economics.

State programs that help people move from welfare to work, support for child care services and increased health insurance for children also helped, he said. But he said that improvements in health coverage for uninsured children and programs to train workers were still needed.

“All those things matter,” Hillard said.

Lisa Pohlmann of the Maine Center for Economic Policy said the decreasing figures do not tell the whole story. She said the report is based on an outdated 1950s definition of poverty.

That definition assumes food constitutes one-third of a family’s expenses and does not account for changes such as the rising cost of health insurance, she said.

“We can’t dispute the income numbers. However, the federal government’s poverty level is an inadequate measure of what people need to get by,” she said.

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