It’s Time for Real Reform to Reverse Troubling Trends
Right now, Maine families are going through tough times economically and many children are going without adequate food and basic necessities. When children suffer we all suffer the consequences. Investing in children and their families impacts their future likelihood of wellbeing and success. It also impacts the future of Maine communities and the state. We all have a stake in this, and here in Maine we know how to come together to solve problems. We’ve got to take action today to reform the broken system so that all children get what they need to succeed and thrive tomorrow. Our collective future depends on it.
Growing hunger and child poverty demands our immediate attention. Maine is currently trending in the wrong direction and without intervention we are all in trouble. The data helps to paint this picture.
Hunger and Poverty Trending in the Wrong Direction in Maine:
Think about the homes in your community and the families living in them. In one of every 14 homes, families know what it means to be hungry. These families are going without enough food to eat because they can’t afford to buy enough food.
Now think about the children in your community. One in every six children in Maine lives in poverty. But more troubling still, the depth of poverty is getting worse for Maine children. One out of every 13 children is living in extreme or “deep poverty” here in Maine. That means that their family’s income is less than half of the poverty level—less than $840 a month for a family of three. For many, it’s much less.
This picture is even more disturbing when we compare Maine’s experience with hunger and deep child poverty to the rest of the nation. Maine ranks 9th worst in the nation for households that are food insecure. Last year we ranked 12th worst. Maine is headed in the wrong direction compared to the nation as a whole, where the level of food insecurity actually dropped this year. When it comes to very low food security—real hunger—Maine ranks third worst in the nation.
Maine children are also facing deep poverty in far greater proportions than the rest of the nation. The proportion of Maine children living in deep poverty increased at a rate that was a staggering 8 times greater than that of the rest of the nation between 2011 and 2015. Closer to home, Maine’s rate of deep child poverty increased at more than twice the rate of other New England states. In other words the future for thousands of Maine children is decidedly headed in the wrong direction.
The Cost of Hunger and Poverty:
Hunger and poverty go hand in hand and their true costs go far beyond dollars and cents.
Hunger can damage children’s health and brain development years before they get to school. By kindergarten, food-insecure children often are cognitively, emotionally and physically behind their food-secure peers.[i] When it comes to poverty, by almost every indicator poor children have poor outcomes compared to non-poor children. Children from low-income families go on to complete less schooling, work less, and earn less than others over their lifetime.[ii].
Those in deep and persistent poverty fare even worse than children growing up in less severe poverty on several health and development indicators, most notably blood lead levels, obesity, and parents’ assessment of whether children are “flourishing,” which is a composite measure reflecting children’s curiosity, resilience, affection, and positive mood.[iii] Moreover, children growing up in deep poverty are more likely to stay poor—a troubling distinction that sets them apart from other poor children and can stand in the way of a productive and fulfilling future.[iv]
If we don’t begin to pay attention to the data and make smart investments to expand opportunity for all children to reach their full potential, we can expect to see continued erosion in economic mobility and weakening of our nation’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.
We Can Act to Fix These Problems:
Let’s go back to thinking about those homes in your community, homes where neighbors are living without enough food to eat and children are living the impact of deep poverty every day. These problems are not inevitable. There is no reason that Maine children should suffer more than children in Vermont, Montana or North Dakota. There is no reason that Maine families should be hungrier than those in neighboring states.
New census data show that the nation as a whole is actually moving forward to reduce both hunger and deep child poverty. Maine could do the same, but to do so will require reshaping policies that are hurting, not helping our ability to help children succeed. More importantly, political will is required to make these changes.
Maine people have a long tradition of caring about our communities and each other. Join with us to let policy makers in Augusta know that a Maine with growing numbers of deeply poor children is not the Maine we want to live in nor does it represent the legacy we want to leave to future generations.