My wife and I raised three sons here in Windham and we’re now the proud grandparents of three young granddaughters. I am always thinking about how the decisions we make in Augusta will affect Maine children and their futures.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Maine Children’s Alliance produce an annual report called the Kids Count Data Book that measures how kids all over the country are doing in the areas of health, education, economic well-being and family and community. They recently released this year’s report, and it contains some important findings about Maine.
While there were some positive highlights, like the fact that the percentage of Maine teens abusing drugs and alcohol has fallen by 38 percent since 2008, the statistics also reveal that Maine kids are facing challenges in several areas. In fact, while child well-being has improved nationally, it has declined in Maine. Our state ranks 17th in the country for child well-being, dropping five places in just one year.
Why are Maine kids falling behind their peers?
The biggest factor is our weakened economy, which is still struggling to catch up to other parts of the country and shake off the lingering effects of the recession. The report ranks us at 23rd in measures of economic well-being.
Many parents in our state lack secure employment. And even for parents who work full-time, wages have stagnated. As a result, nearly one in five Maine children is living in poverty.
The effect of poverty has far-reaching implications for children that not only have an impact when they’re young but can also affect the rest of their lives, including educational achievement, health outcomes and future employment.
Another disappointing finding is that the number of children without health insurance in Maine has increased, even as it has declined nationwide. Sixteen thousand Maine children lacked insurance in 2014, up from 11,000 in 2010.
Childhood hunger is also a growing problem. Here in Cumberland County, 20 percent of children experience food insecurity, meaning they don’t have consistent access to nutritious meals.
Thankfully, the Windham Raymond School Nutrition Program is doing great work to ensure that all kids eat well at school and even during the summer months through summer nutrition programs. We need to support the development of these programs statewide. Poor nutrition hinders learning and development during this crucial stage of life, and can keep kids from reaching their full potential.
I’m glad that we fought for and won an additional $15 million in much-needed education funding last session. It is critical that schools have the resources to provide every child with a high-quality education, our best bet for giving every kid a fighting chance at success.
The bad news in the Kids Count report shouldn’t discourage us – it shows us where we need to focus our efforts. Policymakers must ensure that we allocate resources with young people in mind, that we make it easier for parents to keep money in their pockets and that we ensure that everyone has access to basic necessities like health care, housing and healthy food. There are so many things about our great state that make it a wonderful place to grow up, but it is our job to make it an even better one.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns about state government, please do not hesitate to contact me by phone at 892-6591 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.