About one in every nine Mainers is living in poverty, according to new census data.

But the new data also suggest that Maine is weathering the recession better than the country as a whole.

The percentages of Mainers in poverty and those without health insurance didn’t increase significantly from 2008 to 2009, and may have even dropped slightly, according to the preliminary data.

“Perhaps Maine is not doing such a bad job compared to the rest of the country in dealing with this,” said Nicole Witherbee, an analyst who studies poverty trends in Maine.

According to the data released Thursday, Maine’s poverty rate in 2009 was 11.4 percent, meaning about 148,000 Mainers lived below the poverty level. A family of four earning less than $22,050 a year is officially living in poverty, for example.

The poverty rate for 2009 is actually a slight decrease from Maine’s 12 percent rate in 2008. But because the new data have large margins of error — as much as 1.8 percentage points — the numbers are effectively the same, experts said.

The same is true for the rate of Mainers who have no health insurance, which appeared to decline in 2009, from 10.4 percent to 10.2 percent, according to the data.

“These figures are preliminary,” said Garrett Martin, associate director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

But the absence of a significant increase in poverty from 2008 to 2009 is evidence that suggests “we are actually weathering this recession” better than other regions, he said.

The poverty rate had been expected to rise because of the recession, high unemployment and falling incomes.

A look at Maine data using two-year averages — which the U.S. Census Bureau considers a more reliable reflection of trends — shows that the state’s poverty and uninsured rates did increase from 2006-07 to 2008-09, though not significantly.

Median household income dropped 3 percent from 2006-07 to 2008-09.

Data released Thursday don’t reflect the huge differences within Maine when it comes to poverty.

In 2008, the poverty rate was 9.4 percent in York County and 10.4 percent in Cumberland County, below the national average. On the other hand, it was 20.1 percent in Washington County and 18.7 percent in Somerset County, well above average.

The rate of children living in poverty in 2008 was as high as 28.7 percent, in Washington County.

Additional census data to be released this month will contain more detailed information about poverty in Maine, including county breakdowns.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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