On the heels of new census data released this week, the Maine People's Alliance and the Coalition on Human Needs have released a report that shows that Maine’s working class is continuing to struggle in a sluggish economy burdened by federal budget cuts and congressional inaction.
While the recession officially ended in June of 2009, the economy still is deeply troubled. Poverty is higher today than it was in 2008, the first full year of the recession. The new Census Bureau data shows that almost 15 percent of people in Maine are living in poverty -- a big increase from 2008 when only 12.4 percent were poor. The income of the top 1 percent grew by 31.4 percent over the last 3 years, while the incomes for 99 percent of American’s grew only by .4 percent.
“These findings clearly show that while Wall Street is recovering, Main Street is still suffering,” said Jesse Graham of the Maine People’s Alliance. “It’s very clear that deep federal budget cuts like the sequester are slowing an already anemic recovery and putting more pressure on Maine’s families who are already struggling to make ends meet.”
The new data comes as House Republicans voted last night to cut almost $40 billion, over 10 years, to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), affecting up to 6 million hungry families, children, seniors and veterans. In Maine, 1 in 5 residents rely on the anti-hunger program, with 64% of those recipients in families with children and 34% in families with elderly or disabled members. In addition, over the past three years, 1 in 7 Mainers have been identified as “food insecure,” which the USDA defines as “repeated disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.”
“Several years ago I received help from SNAP and I am very grateful for the assistance the program provided. Food is a basic human necessity and a right,” said Heidi Brooks of Lewiston. “This program helps families who are working and still having trouble making ends meet, helps people who are looking for work and having trouble finding it –the program works for a lot of people, and it’s an important way to help people find food security in times of need. It is unconscionable to cut this essential food program that helps feed the people who need it most, while giving tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations.”
The number of those living in near-poverty also has grown; today nearly one third of Mainers live under twice the poverty income level (below $36,568 for a three-person family). One out of seven in Maine are unemployed or underemployed—that includes those who can’t find enough hours of work and those who have given up looking for work.
“If we’re going to grow Maine’s economy, we need to make sure people are moving up into the middle class, not falling out of it,” said Graham. “For many in Maine, finding work that pays a living wage and affording basic necessities is more difficult than it was four years ago, and elected officials at the state and the federal level have a responsibility to invest in programs that meet the needs of Mainers and help the economy get back on track. Ending the harmful cuts enacted in last year's sequester and rejecting yesterday's reckless and out-of-touch attack on the SNAP program is only the beginning. Congress needs to get serious about closing tax loopholes for large corporations as a way to raise revenue to prevent these deep and unnecessary cuts. When everyone, including the largest corporations like Apple and GE, pays their fair share, then everyone can get a fair shot.”
The full report can be found here: http://bit.ly/MEcensus