The American Community Survey (ACS), an ongoing survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, provides data every year — giving policy makers, communities and businesses the current information they need to plan for investments and services. The Maine Children’s Alliance uses ACS data to track the well-being of our youngest citizens, keeping an eye on long-term trends. Today, the 2014 ACS one-year estimates were released providing us with updates on indicators related to child well-being.
Overall, 14.1 percent of Mainers (adults and children) live in poverty. Child poverty rates in Maine have not decreased. In fact, estimates for poverty in 2014 were slightly higher than they were for 2013: 19.1 percent vs. 17.7 percent. Of ongoing concern, almost 1 in 4 young children in Maine (24.6 percent of children under the age of five) live in poverty.
Maine has the 2nd highest child poverty rate in New England, just behind Rhode Island where 20 percent of the children are poor. The state with the highest child poverty rate is New Mexico, where nearly one-third (30 percent) of the children are poor. Utah, Maryland, New Hampshire and Wyoming have the lowest child poverty rate at 13 percent.
According to the 2014 ACS estimates, the rate of uninsured children in Maine continued to increase last year, with nearly 16,300 Maine children under age 18 uninsured (6.3 percent). This is a significant increase from just two years ago, when an estimated 12,200 Maine kids went without health coverage (4.6 percent). During that same time period, the national rate of uninsured children decreased from 7.2 to 6.0 percent, dipping below Maine’s rate for the first time.
Why the increase in uninsured Maine children?
What many people aren’t aware of is the significant impact of parents’ health insurance status on their children’s health. For many years, Maine has worked to ensure access to health coverage for the parents of children because children whose parents are insured are more likely to receive check-ups, preventive care and other health care services. Unfortunately, in 2012, Maine changed the law for parent eligibility – we used to provide health coverage to parents with incomes up to twice the poverty level; now we only offer coverage to parents with incomes at or below the poverty line. It should be noted that of the estimated 16,300 uninsured Maine kids, over 7,000 are low-income and eligible for MaineCare. Data provided by the Office of MaineCare Services for MCA’s KIDS COUNT project shows a decline in MaineCare enrollment from SFY2012 to SFY2015, suggesting that more kids have lost coverage since our initial analysis.
In 2014 MCA published a policy paper that examined in detail both opportunities and challenges that developed for parents in Maine as a result of decisions at the state level and as a result of some details of transitioning MaineCare to align with the Affordable Care Act. Although only parents – and not their children – were slated for eligibility cuts under Maine’s 2012 legislation, MCA’s analysis of caseload data indicated that in the first stage of parent eligibility cuts, not only did parents lose coverage, many children did as well. Today’s ACS data seem to confirm those initial findings.