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More Kids Growing up in Maine's Poorest Neighborhoods

February 23, 2012

PORTLAND, Maine - A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation released today says the number of children in Maine living in high-poverty communities has increased by 167 percent over the last decade. The KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot shows that the number of kids in communities below the poverty level has jumped from 3,000 to 8,000.

Claire Berkowitz of the Maine Children's Alliance says even though it is a rural state, pockets of poverty - mostly in Maine's cities - are stressful environments to grow up in.

"Resources are scarce, there may not be access to good health care nearby, there may not be dentists - there's a lot at play."

Nationwide, there has been a 25-percent surge in the number of children in areas of "concentrated poverty," defined as places where 30 percent or more of the residents live below the federal poverty line. The report calls for transforming disadvantaged communities and makes several recommendations that can be tailored to each area, with an eye toward making neighborhoods better places to raise children.

Berkowitz says she wants state government to use the new poverty data to improve educational opportunities for kids in the pockets of poverty in cities like Portland, Lewiston, Bangor and Waterville.

"It is about how do you fund your schools equitably, to support kids who live in neighborhoods that maybe don't have that kind of resource going into their schools? How do we do that as a state?"

Laura Speer of the Casey Foundation, which compiled the report, says even if a family is not officially "in poverty" according to federal standards, it still harms children when a lot of other people in the neighborhood are under that line.

"Living in an area of concentrated poverty limits the opportunities families have to get a better job to make sure that the health and the welfare of their children is taken care of."

Speer says the data also identifies the children most likely to live in high-poverty communities.

"Children of color in the United States are much more likely to have poverty in their households be compounded by living in a high-poverty neighborhood and everything that means."

African-American, American Indian and Latino children are six to nine times more likely to live in high-poverty communities than their white counterparts.

The full report is available at AECF.org.



Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME