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Poverty by the Numbers

Based on the 2012 Report on Poverty – Maine State Planning Office

Overview: For some Mainers, meeting the needs of daily life is a struggle. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than one in ten Maine residents live below the poverty line. Nearly one third of Mainers have a household income that classifies them as poor or near-poor. These households feel the pinch of rising costs for shelter, fuel, food, and medical care. Poverty is not just a problem for the people who experience it; it is a problem for everyone. Those in poverty are often isolated from community life, are unable to participate fully in the economy, and cannot support local businesses. Hungry children are not able to focus on learning in school and face the likelihood of continuing the cycle of poverty to the next generation.

Income: Income is the most common and direct measure of poverty. Over time, per capita incomes in both Maine and the nation have steadily increased. Per capita personal income, which includes all forms of income from earned wages and salary to government benefits, was $3,413 in Maine and $4,084 in the United States in 1970. By 2010, per capita personal income had risen to $36,717 in Maine and $39,945 in the nation.

State Statistics: In 2010, Maine’s median household income of $46,419 was below the national average of $52,029. Maine is in the lowest third of states in median household income. Poverty Rate: Poverty rates are linked to income and other economic factors. The poverty rate in Maine has fluctuated between 10% and 15% for nearly thirty years (U.S. Census Bureau). The poverty rate in Maine was 12.0% in 2009- 2010, below the national rate of 14.7%, but showed little improvement since the 2001 recession.

Employment: Work is the primary source of income for most households, especially those with low incomes. Access to stable, well-paying jobs is a household’s most reliable defense against poverty. Finding and keeping those jobs depends on many factors including educational attainment, health, family structure, access to transportation and childcare, and the strength of the economy overall.

State Statistics: From 200-2010, Maine saw a net loss of 11,000 jobs, and 28,600 manufacturing jobs. This indicates a structural shift in the state’s economy that has caused some workers to struggle. Many have difficulty finding new job opportunities for which they are qualified and that pay similar wages. Local Numbers: from the ME Center for Workforce Research and Development. In 2010, Hancock County’s unemployment rate ranged from 8.4-9.8%, above the state average of 7.9%.

Food Insecurity: Food insecurity is another indicator of poverty. It measures a household’s ability to meet basic needs, rather than its income. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food security as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” Food insecurity can also reinforce the detrimental effects of poverty. Inadequate nutrition limits one’s ability to focus on work and learning. Poor health may prevent people from working on a stable basis. Food security is generally studied at the household level.

State Statistics: More than one in ten Maine residents did not have stable and secure access to food. Over 15% of Maine’s population experienced food insecurity, and of these, 6.8% met the category of very low food security. Local Numbers: from the Tree of Life Food Pantry Blue Hill ( In 2012, the Tree of Life Food Pantry served a total of 960 different families, an average of 192 families per week, with five new families coming for the first time every week. That translates to an 11% increase from 2011 to 2012, and a 15% increase in use from 2010 to 2011. Free and Reduced Lunch Program: Maine DOE ( The percentage of Blue Hill peninsula students receiving free or reduced lunches ranges from 30 to 67%, with a state average of 45% in 2011.

Homelessness: Another indicator of poverty is the number of people who are homeless. The Maine State Housing Authority gathers information on homelessness in Maine from homeless shelters around the state. The counts used are “bednights” and clients. Bednights are the numbers of occupied beds at each homeless shelter in Maine on every night, added up for the entire year. Bednights increased significantly following the start of the recent recession. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of clients served has increased only slightly, indicating that homeless clients may be either more chronically homeless (experience more episodes of homelessness) or that each homeless episode is lasting longer (on average).

Local Numbers: Emmaus Shelter Ellsworth ( The Emmaus Shelter served 360 residents in 2012 with 7819 bednights. Emmaus volunteers also provided 22,053 non-residents services to people (food boxes, clothing, diapers, linens etc.) When Emmaus opened its doors in 1992 the shelter had 16 beds and currently has 25 beds. The shelter is usually full with a waiting list.

* All national and state data and statistics were excerpted from the 2012 Report on Poverty - Maine State Planning Office ( Local Numbers resources are indicated in the text.

This information sheet was compiled by Sandra Phoenix FNP, Healthy Peninsula Advisory Board and ECWG Steering Committee


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