Race Matters

In April, The Maine People’s Resource Center—MPA’s sister organization—released the Maine Racial Justice Policy Guide. It documents the racial disparities that Mainers of color face in education, health, and income, and offers an analysis the public policies that are likely to positively or negatively impact these disparities. It also shows how the growth of communities of color in Maine is essential for our economic future.

At MPA, Mainers are tired of the ways our opposition tries to divide us. Everyone wants to fix the economy and create jobs, but it’s impossible to make progress on these goals until we move from scapegoating to real solutions. For example: huge, unregulated corporations brought us to the brink of the second Great Depression—and it’s these corporations whom we should hold accountable for our current economic mess, not immigrant workers. The more we spend time fighting amongst ourselves, the less we are able to actually make Maine a better place for all of us.

If we are to build a successful social change movement in Maine, we must address the ways in which injustice disproportionately affects Mainers of color, no matter what proportion of our state’s population these Mainers comprise. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If we had taken seriously the “exploding” sub-prime mortgages when they were targeted at communities of color in the 1990s, we could have nipped this economic crisis in the bud. Instead, the issue didn’t make headlines until it affected the white, middle class. At that point, it was too late. Our policy guide raises racial disparity issues in the hopes of avoiding repeating this kind of mistake: let’s take injustice seriously no matter who suffers it, and let’s fix it before it affects all of us.

Here are some of the key findings outlined in the report:

Every single county in Maine saw a double-digit percentage growth of the number of people of color between 2000 and 2010. The lowest rate of growth was in Sagadahoc County, where the number of people of color still increased by 23%. Overall, Maine’s communities of color grew by 80%. Remarkably, three counties (Cumberland, Androscoggin, and Oxford) saw increases of 99% or more.

Maine - like the rest of the country - has enormous disparities in educational outcomes. Because of inequities in our schools, black fourth graders in Maine have below-basic math skills at nearly three times the rate of white children, and more than half of black fourth graders (58%) in Maine can’t read at a basic level.

Native Americans and Latinos in Maine die on average fourteen years earlier than Mainers as a whole.

The median annual income for every racial group in Maine—including Asians—is at least $10,000 lower than the income for white Mainers. Usually, national data aggregates extremely high-earning Asians together with extremely lower-earning Asians and in the result is a finding of median incomes comparable to whites. Not so here. Additionally, multiracial Mainers had the lowest median income reported - just $11,902.

Maine counties with higher numbers of people of color tend to have lower median ages - a key indicator for future economic well-being. Everyone interested in making sure there are more young people in Maine should care about racial equity.

There were a number of policies considered by the Maine legislature this winter that our Policy Guide evaluates for their affects on racial disparities, including:

LD 1503, which aimed to reduce education disparities in student achievement and discipline. This was a very ambitious, proactive bill that (unsurprisingly) did not pass this session. It has been sent back to committee where its champion, Sen. Justin Alfond (D-Portland), will continue to fight for it.

LD 1207, which would have stripped egg farm workers at Decoster—90% of whom are Latino—from their collective bargaining rights and overtime pay. The House passed a slightly better amended version, but the Senate did not have the votes to pass either version (it didn’t help the bill’s supporters when it became clear that Decoster lied to the Republican Committee Chair in his testimony). The bill was then carried over to next year when point the committee will pick it up again.

The Governor’s immigrant-targeted budget cuts. In the 1990s, Congress decided to prevent documented immigrants who had been living in the U.S. for less than five years from qualifying for programs like TANF, Food Stamps, SSI, and Medicaid. When that happened, the Maine legislature voted across party lines to continue support for those immigrants. Besides some hard-fought exceptions, the Governor repealed most of these supports for some of Maine’s most vulnerable populations.