Cumberland County towns with the highest percentage of college-educated residents also have the highest median household incomes, new Census Bureau data is showing.


Cape Elizabeth leads the education list, with 62.7 percent of residents having at least a bachelor’s degree. Falmouth and Cumberland follow, with 61.8 and 60.4 percent, respectively. Cumberland boasts the top median household income, with $84,063. Falmouth is second, with $83,139; Cape Elizabeth is third, with $80,644.


By comparison, 26.1 percent of residents statewide have a college degree or more, while the statewide, median household income is $46,541.


These education and income statistics are among the thousands of facts and figures contained in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2005-2009, released today.


The survey offers a first look at town-level economic and demographic indicators since the 2000 census.


“Think of it as a snapshot,” said Tom Merrill, an economist at the Maine State Planning Office. “Instead of five years, think of it as a single unit in time.”


The education and income figures, Merrill noted, don’t point to a direct cause and effect between living in the communities that scored highest.


“It just shows that the two indicators are linked,” he said.


For instance: Roughly four out 10 Portland residents have at least a college degree, but median income is below the statewide average. A large share of young, lower-wage earners in the city, combined with the many service-sector jobs, may pull down the income figure, Merrill said.


A few towns in Cumberland County had a share of college graduates that was below the statewide average. The lowest was Baldwin, with 15.5 percent. Others included Casco, Gray, Harrison, Naples, Sebago, Standish and Westbrook.


Also at the bottom of the income spectrum: 12 percent of Portland residents reported earnings below the poverty level in the past year, compared to 8.6 percent statewide. In Portland, 15.1 percent of residents qualified for food stamp benefits in the past year, compared to 12.7 percent statewide.


Beyond education and income, the survey turned up some quirky and revealing insights about Portland and the state. For instance:


More than one in 10 Portland residents walk to work; less than 4 percent ride a bus.

More than one in 10 Portland residents are foreign born. Four percent of Portland residents trace their ancestry to sub-Saharan Africa. By comparison, just over 3 percent of residents statewide were born in another country.

Despite its outdoorsy image, Maine has become a workplace dominated by sales, service and office workers. Only 1.6 percent of statewide jobs are in farming, fishing and forestry. A quarter of all statewide occupations are in sales and office jobs, which is on par with Portland’s statistics.


The survey represents a change in the way the Census Bureau is collecting information about income, education, occupation and similar details. Rather than relying on the 10-year census, the bureau is capturing these finer points with the American Community Survey, which asks questions at a small sample of households and is updated annually.


That’s why today’s data should be treated as a new statistical portrait, according to the planning office, and not compared directly to the 2000 Census. Today’s information was compiled from surveys at 3 million homes nationally.


The new survey approach is considered a more timely and accurate way to allocate the more than $400 billion a year in federal money going to state, local and tribal areas. Over time, the five-year survey will make it easier to spot trends.


Later this month, the first part of the 2010 Census will be released, covering national and state population counts. Local population and demographic information will be available later this winter.