Bangor Daily News, February 28, 2008: Study: Child poverty a concern; teen drug, alcohol use decreases
The 2008 Maine Kids Count Data Book will be released today, with the usual mix of good and bad news to relate.
On the upside, the report shows that compared with previous years fewer Maine teenagers are using tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. The number of high school students attempting suicide has declined, juvenile arrests for driving while intoxicated have decreased, and more teens are either attending school or working or both.
The bad news is poverty. The Kids Count report shows that 20 percent of Maine children under age 5 and 17 percent of those under age 18 are living at or below the federal poverty level of $15,577 for a family of three.
Of all Maine children under 18, 39 percent live in families with incomes at or below twice the federal poverty level, or $31,154 for a family of three. And 10 percent of youngsters from these low-income families have no health insurance coverage even though they are eligible for MaineCare, the state۪s Medicaid program.
Those numbers reflect an increase from last year۪s report, though the calculation has changed so the comparison is not a straightforward one.
“Poverty is the single most horrendous influence for kids,” said Elinor Goldberg, president of the Maine Children۪s Alliance. Poverty in childhood is linked with physical and mental health problems, poor school performance, teen pregnancy and perpetuating the problem into another generation lower income as an adult, she said.
Kids Count in Maine is compiled by the children۪s alliance and is part of the nationwide Kids Count report, a state-by-state survey on the status of American children. Funded by the Annie E. Case Foundation, the annual report measures the well-being of children in the broad areas of mental and physical health, social and economic status, and education and learning. Data are drawn from public sources including the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the Maine Department of Public Safety, the U.S. Census Bureau and others.
The national 2008 Kids Count Data Book will be published later this year.
The report comes at a time when Maine lawmakers face difficult decisions about funding programs that provide a variety of support services to low-income and disabled individuals and families. Earlier this week, legislators were briefed on the need to prepare for a $95 million budget shortfall in the current biennium, on top of an already painful belt-tightening to meet an existing $95 million deficit in tax revenues. Additionally, the state is bracing for significant reductions in federal Medicaid funding that could cost MaineCare another $200 million, Goldberg said.
Goldberg said there are no easy answers to the problem of funding crucial services for children and their families during hard financial times. Maine lawmakers have historically supported such services, especially for younger children, she noted, but they have no choice now but to cut funding dramatically.
The Maine Children۪s Alliance and other groups will continue to lobby on behalf of Maine children, Goldberg said, so their interests are represented during the painful budget cuts.
“It helps just to keep talking about it,” she said.
In addition to reporting statewide trends, the Maine Kids Count Data Book sorts information on a county-by-county basis. Information includes participation in school lunch programs, juvenile arrest rates, availability of health care providers, high school graduation rates and more. The entire report, and reports from previous years, can be seen online at www.mekids.org.