Food stamp totals tell interesting story of two states

The election of a Republican governor and legislature may suggest the time is ripe to look for news stories that the Maine media, perhaps for reasons of too much ideology or too little enthusiasm, has stubbornly ignored.

Prominent among these should be an examination of the remarkable dichotomy in economic and business philosophies between Maine and its next-door neighbor, New Hampshire. A story on this difference and how it has played out over the last 30 or more years should be both interesting and enlightening.

The issue is timely not only due to the election but because of a recent article in the Wall Street Journal pointing out that New Hampshire, which has a slightly larger population than Maine, has fewer than half as many residents who depend on food stamps. That’s an astonishing difference for two states located side by side in the same region.

According to USDA statistics quoted in the WSJ. New Hampshire has just over 109,900 people or 8.3 percent of the population who rely on food stamps.

In Maine a whopping 237,300 or 18 percent of its population depend on stamps to put food on the table. This is almost five points above the national average.

The average food stamp use in all 50 states is 13.8 percent with the only two northern states exceeding Maine. They are recession-battered Michigan (18.8 percent on food stamps) and very liberal Oregon, (19.2 percent).

Seven other states where food stamp use is greater than in Maine are all in the south. The District of Columbia leads all the states in this sad statistic with 21.1 percent of its population on stamps.

So why does Maine which has geographical advantages over its neighboring state (think beautiful long coastline, for one) have so many more folks who must rely on government assistance?

The conventional wisdom (at least among conservatives) is that Maine for more than 30 years has been placing emphasis on social and environmental programs at the expense of job creation. During this period Maine has been boosting taxes and erecting bureaucratic roadblocks that make it more difficult for businesses to grow and hire workers.

New Hampshire, on the other hand, has been much more focused on creating a business-friendly atmosphere. That has resulted in more and better-paying jobs and has cut down on the need for benefits like food stamps.

The dramatic difference in food stamp reliance in the two states appears to bear this out. But the issue has never been explored in depth — minus bias — in the Maine’s generally liberal media,

It ought to be discussed, at least, as this new political era begins. Perhaps the GOP, if not the media itself, will see that it is.

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