Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Report indicates poverty in Maine's largest city

If you’ve moved to Maine from away, one thing that’s readily apparent, especially if relocating from an urban area, is that other than Portland, the state has little in the way of cities. Even the greater-Portland metro area has less than 100,000 people, which is small compared to many urban areas in New England and elsewhere.

For lifelong Mainers, however, Portland is the state’s hub, the epicenter of culture, the arts and if you live in many of the rural areas of the state, a destination and a place to spend the weekend. If you’re from points north, living in the western mountains, or in downeast Washington County, coming to Portland and spending the weekend at one of its more upscale hotels, such as the Regency, the historic Eastland Park Hotel, or even the Sheraton, in South Portland, near the Maine Mall, all make for a great weekend getaways.

For folks from elsewhere in Maine, Portland appears urban, chic and a place where everyone is better educated and makes more money. For those of us who know the city, however, today’s report, released by the Alliance for Ending Hunger, indicating that one out of 11 families in Cumberland County faced hunger in 2006.

420 families in Portland and another 430 families throughout Cumberland County were surveyed in compiling the report. For many who have traveled the state, the fact that Portland and Cumberland County would have poverty issues like these, is somewhat surprising. It also deflates the myth that everyone in and around Portland is driving luxury automobiles and living in an upscale townhouse on the water. While that is the reality for some, for many others, hunger and living one or two paychecks away from food insecurity is closer to the truth.

In addition to hunger, families on the margin face accompanying medical problems, diminished quality of life and lost economic potential. The survey did not include Portland’s homeless shelters, which provide food and shelter to hundreds of individuals and indicates the problem is much wider than the survey was able to identify.

While Mainers regularly hear calls for tax relief and vague proposals for education reform, our state still has a long way to go economically, hoping to raise the boats of all its people.


Joe said...

It would be interesting to see what the stats are for other areas of the state. The AEH website that you linked didn't appear to have that kind of information.

Living in the Wealtiest Nation in the World, I find all hunger to be shameful. I realize that your point isn't to talk about how poor Cumberland County is, but rather to point out that there are hungry people even in "wealthy" areas. Still, I saw the one-in-eleven stat and my first thought was, "that's probably not so bad compared to the rest of the state." (You know how I like to evaluate my stats in full context!) I wonder if that data is readily available?

weasel said...

Here's the National Center for Children in Poverty numbers Maine that will allow you to compare with other states, while here's the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at UMO's latest report, Maine county by Maine county. Sadly, I have to draw on these sort of reports and numbers a lot at the day job and it seems the problem isn't a lack of studies, data, or awareness but rather convincing people (both legislators and the almighty citizens held back by the man) to give a flying one.

The MCSPC report uses some interesting measures not limited to income, such as heating assistance numbers- interesting stuff.

Jim said...

Weasel's point is an interesting one and certainly one I think about alot. Why can't our policymakers muster the political will to address issues of poverty, inequality and poorly distributed wealth?

weasel said...

Because- alas- programs cost money and the benefit (while real and lasting) not as sexy as other Augusta priorities.

Ask your neighbors; everyone opposes poverty and thinks people should be helped in the abstract, but tell them it'll put a penny on the income tax or go near the mill rate and they'll have your hand off at the wrist.

The flip side problem is that so many government (big and small) anti-poverty initiatives have manifestly and visibly failed. I suspect a big part of the problem is the delicious irony of even the most free-market right wingers insisting on the command economy approach to tackling social problems. Therefore we get a constant stream of top-down imposed solutions (that are broken before they leave the store) when we should be taking a venture philanthropy apporach and funding the best bottom-up projects that emerge from the population we want to serve.

I also just saw a pig fly past, by the way.

weasel said...

And sorry to warble on, but something Joe wrote struck me:

"Living in the Wealtiest Nation in the World, I find all hunger to be shameful."

I totally agree. And what bugs me on that score is that somehow that situation was aquired the illusion of inevitability: as it is so it shall ever be. Without hunger in the world's richest country, whither the work of Charles Dickens? Compete rot by the way, look at Scandinavia, but a deep rooted sentiment nonetheless.