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The Kids Are All Right? Not So Much in Maine

March 17, 2011

PORTLAND, Maine - According to the most recent data available, gathered in 2009, 17.5 percent of Maine children under 18 lived in poverty - up one percent from 2008, when the recession hit. While somewhat surprised that the increase was no greater, Dean Crocker of the Maine Children's Alliance says his group's report is - on the whole - a downer.

"The number of kids in poverty was going up, the median income in their families was going down, and we're beginning to see substantial problems in educational achievement."

The 17th annual "Kids Count" survey shows an achievement gap in fourth grade reading scores between low-income children and their peers, and higher rates of abusive relationships and sexual violence among teenagers. Among the positive findings: The percentage of Maine's children age 0-18 without health insurance is five percent - well below the national rate of 11 percent.

One finding that stands out for Crocker involves cigarette smoking among teenagers. He cannot explain why it is increasing, he says.

"We were one of those states that had done an incredible job of decreasing teen smoking. Unfortunately, it went from 14 percent to a little over 18 percent."

The "Kids Count" survey shows that unless Maine's elected leaders agree that the youngest, most vulnerable of the state's residents have to be at the heart of tough budgetary decisions, the economic future will be bleaker.

"If you were to put together a picture of the children born in 2000 and project forward what they will look like in 2022, you'll find that less than half of them are actually available for the employment future that we hope for all of them."

Also on the positive side, "Kids Count" data shows a more than five-percent increase in 4-year-olds enrolled in public pre-K programs. This was hailed by Crocker, who points out that early childhood education is one of the best ways to prepare children for long-term success.

The full report is available at www.mekids.org.


Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME