Maine got good economic news from Washington this week, when residents learned that household income here is climbing faster than the national average and that the state has moved up in national rankings. But very young and rural Mainers are still hurting — and since Gov. Paul LePage has ravaged social supports, his potential successors should be pressed early and often to say what they’ll do to make things better for Maine’s needy.

Median household income in Maine reached $53,079 last year, according to data released Thursday from the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey. Though we lag the national median of $57,617, the new state number represents a 13.6 percent jump between 2012 and 2016 — enough to move Maine to 33rd in the U.S. income growth. Over the same period, the national median family income rose 12.1 percent.

Maine’s poverty rate is also moving in the right direction: It’s gone from 14.7 percent in 2012 to 12.5 last year. (Nationally, the figure is 14 percent, down from 15.9 percent in 2012.) However, too many Mainers are still being left behind — among them, some of our most vulnerable.

Across our state and our country, one in every five children under 5 lives in a household where the income is below poverty level. That’s a crisis in itself, but there are pockets where the situation is much worse. In Aroostook County, more than a third — 37 percent — of children under age 5 are living in poverty, as are 26.6 percent of very young children in Kennebec County. In prosperous southern Maine, on the other hand, the share of the very young living in poverty is far lower: 7 percent in York County, and 11.3 percent in Cumberland County.

And as poor mothers and fathers have been struggling to gain an economic foothold, their efforts have been stymied by the state’s dismantling of the child care safety net. The ability of a parent — especially a single one — to bring in an income depends on access to affordable child care. People in poverty spend over a third of their income for child care; single moms can wind up shelling out 37 percent of their pay.

An insufficient voucher system was in place when Gov. LePage took office in 2011. Then his Department of Health and Human Services made it weaker by cutting the subsidies that care providers receive for enrolling children from low-income families. After repeatedly opposing the Legislature’s attempts to raise subsidy rates, the DHHS this summer unilaterally decided to increase them, according to the Bangor Daily News — though the larger centers that enroll most youngsters won’t see much of a boost, if any.

At the helm of the DHHS as services for poor families were decimated was Mary Mayhew, who led the agency for six years, until she stepped down in June to launch her campaign to succeed her former boss. The election is over a year away, but’s it not too early to hold her accountable for her actions — and to push other candidates to make it clear that they will be true advocates for the Mainers who need it most.

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