The Greater Waterville Poverty Action Coalition’s recent letter, “It is too expensive to be poor” (July 28), brings much needed attention to a growing national humanitarian crisis that we have ignored for far too long. As a representative of the Maine Poor People’s Campaign, I would like to provide some specifics about poverty right here in our state.

The Supplemental Poverty Measure, which goes well beyond the federal government’s official calculations, defines poverty as “the lack of economic resources for consumption of basic needs such as food, housing, clothing, and utilities.” It further considers individuals’ medical expenses, payroll taxes, child support payments, and child-care costs in its calculations.

According to this measure, some 41%, or more than 540,000, of our fellow Mainers qualify as poor or low income (defined as a household making less than twice the federal poverty level — currently $25,750 for a family of four), including approximately 130,000 children and tens of thousands of veterans. Moreover, approximately 2,000 members of our community (hundreds of them children) are homeless.

Meanwhile, the income of those at the top continues to grow; a March 2018 CNBC article lists Maine third among U.S. states where income inequality is growing fastest.

The minimum wage in Maine is now $11 per hour. But a single parent with three children earning minimum wage must still work 45 hours a week just to reach the federal poverty line. And while that parent is working, who’s taking care of the children? Where are they living? What happens when someone in the family gets sick?

In Maine, as across the nation, we the people are committing what the Poor People’s Campaign calls “attention violence” by not facing these truths. And our leaders are committing “policy violence” by not doing more to create a truly just economic system. This has to stop.

Elizabeth Leonard
Maine Poor People’s Campaign

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