Meet Real Mainers

Maine Equal Justice Partners and the Every Child Matters Education Fund went directly to Maine people to ask for their thoughts about how to reduce poverty in our State.

They utilized two different approaches to test the opinions of Maine people across the State. The first was a scientific telephone survey of 478 likely Maine voters conducted from July 12 to July 16, 2014. The second was a written survey completed by 941 Maine residents with low income over the age of 18.

Both groups were asked similar questions about the causes of poverty and the best strategies to reduce poverty.  The two groups – those who may have only read about poverty and others who are experiencing its effects daily –shared strikingly similar ideas about poverty. Both groups agreed that the primary cause of poverty is Maine’s under-performing economy, and that the best strategies to reduce poverty involve building bridges to opportunity.

Patricia Callahan is one of the people who responded to the survey of Mainers with low income. Her story helps demonstrate why it so important that Maine people come together to build bridges to opportunity for every Mainer…

Patricia Callahan, Kennebec County

“We need to address how endless exposure to the stress of ‘never having enough’ can break the human spirit. The current climate of blaming individuals for their choices misses the mark and impacts a recipients’ sense of self.

“Both policy makers and the public need to be educated so that they better understand the consequences of trauma experienced in childhood or as adults, and its impacts on the brain, human development and reactions to life circumstances.

“If we take the time to listen to people living in poverty, we’d learn why they have come to be there.”

Patricia is a 46-year old single parent of a teenage son living in Kennebec County. Despite more than two decades of professional work, she has been unable to leave poverty behind. She lives frugally but still struggles to pay rent and utilities, keep her car on the road and buy enough food to keep her family healthy.

Patricia talks about poverty as being grateful for the little you have even as having so little kills you. She says that she is grateful for the help she hates to need. She is an advocate at heart and generously uses her skills to help others so that they won’t experience the poverty she herself has known.

Patricia believes that we should increase minimum wage and create more jobs that pay an adequate wage. She also sees access to affordable healthcare, and Head Start and pre-K for young children as very effective strategies to reduce poverty and create more opportunity for all Mainers.

Patricia also believes that access to affordable housing is critically important. Patricia is in good company. The majority of both Mainers with low incomes (85%) and the general public (73%) regard affordable housing as an effective strategy for reducing poverty. The major cost burden on low-income households in Maine is housing.  Housing instability is inevitable when costs are out of line with income.

For those earning less than half of the median income – roughly the  equal to the poverty level – 77% are paying more than 30% of their income for housing, and 44% are paying half or more of their income for housing. Patricia recognizes increasing access to affordable housing as a very effective strategy to reduce poverty and increase opportunity for every Mainer.