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Left-wing advocates manipulate statistics to levy partisan attacks

mejpRobyn Merrill of the Maine Equal Justice Partners attacked the LePage administration on Sunday, accusing the Republican governor of supporting policies that have increased child homelessness in Maine. But a review of some of Merrill’s source materials shows that her analysis is off the mark.

Merrill writes, “Over the course of his administration, the number of homeless children in our state has grown, drastically increasing between 2010 and 2012.”

Problematically, the source Merrill links to — an Oct. 2013 report from the National Center for Homeless Education – shows no drastic increase in reported rates of homelessness among Maine’s school-age children. Quite the contrary.

homelessness reportAccording to the very report Merrill cites supporting her claim, the percentage of Maine students listed as homeless was 0.1 percent of total student enrollment in school year 2009-10, 0.1 percent in SY 2010-11, and 0.1 percent in SY 2011-12 — a “drastic” three-year increase of 0.0 percent.

In practical numbers, the total number of homeless students decreased from 1,158 in 2009-10, to 991 in 2010-11, before increasing to 1,564 in 2011-12. Drastic? Hardly. Especially when compared to other states included in the report and considered in context of demographic changes and reporting methodologies. .

Idaho, for example, a state 1.59 million residents call home, reports nearly four times as many homeless students in 2011-12. Neighboring New Hampshire, with a slightly smaller population than Maine, reports 1,252 homeless children in 2011-12.

Merrill’s flippant reference to the report also ignores essential points of context: Did student enrollment in reporting districts increase? Are more homeless children now attending school and popping up on our radar? How have reporting methodoligies changed or improved over the years? If enrollment in reporting school districts increases, a proportional rise in the number of homeless students would be expected, and that’s exactly what the unchanging homeless student rate reflects.If more homeless students are popping up on our radar, than we now have a way of finding and helping them. And if reporting methodologies changed even a little, that could also explain the slight changes in the homeless child count.

Merrill’s other sources are also improperly represented. She cites an editorial from the Portland Press Herald which says homelessness is down nationally but up in Maine. Did she read this quote from that editorial?

Some homeless residents have said they came to Maine, and particularly to Portland, because more services and more assistance are available here, from health care to housing assistance.

In other words, the very programs Merrill and MEJP would have us believe combat poverty may actually explain increases in homelessness!

Or this tidbit, also from the Press Herald, which conflicts perfectly with previous statistics she invoked:

The new federal data details homelessness among children for the first time…. Nationally, 7,634 children younger than 18 were homeless, while in Portland that figure was 63. Some say homelessness among youths is underreported because young people avoid shelters and stay with friends or camp out instead.

To be clear, one homeless child is too many. Policymakers should be concerned with even single-digit increases in the number of children who do not have a warm, secure place to call home. But Merrill is obviously less interested in addressing the problem than she is in manipulating statistics to levy partisan attacks.

Unfortunately, Merrill’s latest effort is of a part with recent attempts by left-wing advocates to distort the truth about Maine’s social safety net in order to advance Democratic policy goals.

Exempli gratia: Rachel Sukeforth’s Jan. 18 op-ed in the Kennebec Journal, in which the former Democratic candidate blatantly misrepresented essential aspects of a proposal to expand eligibility for medical welfare. “There‚Äôs been a lot of demand in Maine to accept federal money to expand Medicaid to almost 70,000 disabled, elderly and low-income Mainers,” wrote Sukeforth. In fact, the expansion Sukeforth so yearns for does not cover “disabled” or “elderly”. It actually covers able-bodied, mostly young and healthy individuals.

We’re all entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.

Steve Robinson
Editor, Maine Wire

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