A TIME TO BE THANKFUL BUT NOT SMUG

As austere November winds its way down to Thanksgiving, and the days grow ever shorter, people all over the country are bustling to get ready for Thanksgiving, and tomorrow, I will write about my Thanksgiving preparations. During this busy season, some of us even find time to give thanks for what we have. Despite the tough economic times, there is much to be thankful for. This country does not experience mass starvation and famine, as other countries do, and usually even the poorest of us live in a place that has a toilet and running water and electricity. Although our social services could be greatly improved, we do have them, and people are not completely on their own during hard times.

That is the good news for the country at large. Here is the not-so-good news for Maine in specific. In their paper “Hunger in Maine,” Donna Yellen, Mark Swann, and Elana Schmidt cite statistics taken from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Maine is  second in the nation for very low food security and ninth for food insecurity….The USDA definition for very low food security is missing multiple meals during an extended period of time or eating food that is inappropriate for that meal. Food insecurity is defined as the consistent worry about having enough income to pay for household food needs and if not, how to provide food for their family.” Yellen, Swann, and Schmidt go on to note that our neighbor to the south, New Hampshire, “has the lowest rates of hunger in the nation,” and they are somewhat puzzled as to why this should be the case.

To really explore the differences between Maine and New Hampshire would take research, time, and analysis that go well beyond the scope of this post. However, my quick take is that Maine simply does not have enough jobs that pay well enough to easily support families and individuals. Once upon a time, when the great factories were running, it was possible for everyday people to earn enough money to have a comfortable life. Not lavish, but comfortable. Now, for the most part, the great factories are still, either abandoned as ruins or converted into shops, offices, and apartments. What has replaced the factories? According to Down East magazine, retail stores such as Wal-Mart and Target are now the major employers in Maine, and except for a few management jobs at the top, these stores do not pay a living wage nor do they provide much in the way of benefits. In the meantime, housing prices have risen as have the costs of fuel, food, and education.

New Hampshire, on the other hand, is close enough to Massachusetts to benefit from that state’s tech industries. A sort of trickle-up effect, as it were. Again, this is just a quick take on a subject that certainly deserves a closer look.

Whatever the reason for the disparity in income between Maine and New Hampshire, in this time of cold and dark, I would encourage Maine readers (and indeed all readers) to think of those who have less than they do and to perhaps make a donation of money or food to their local food pantry.

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