The state of Maine is experiencing historic unemployment. For 36 months straight, the unemployment rate in Maine has been less than 4%, a number that most economists would call full employment. The economy is stable, and we have more job openings than people to fill them.
Opportunities abound, and this is especially good news for low income Mainers and New Mainers, including immigrants, refugees, and asylees. However, many are working two or three jobs to fill their family’s financial needs, and this comes with a cost. These individuals and families have many barriers to becoming financially stable, such as child care, transportation, housing, and connections.
Finding and navigating the system of child care providers may be extremely difficult for a single mother or newly arrived family. Child care options dictate the type of job or time of shift a parent may work. Resources for care during overnight shifts are limited, and most entry level jobs during daytime hours do not pay as well as second or third shift manufacturing or entry level jobs. Sometimes, parents struggle to match what they are paying for care and what they are earning in their positions.
Transportation is a challenge in our rural state, and even in our urban areas. Transportation is an expensive necessity. Many of the available manufacturing jobs may be near bus lines, but that last mile to home might mean walking in the cold of winter, in the dark, to and from the bus stops. This potentially dangerous hardship is necessary for many low income or New Mainers who choose to work higher paying positions, as in manufacturing. However, transportation challenges may mean that workers are finding lower paying jobs closer to home, minimizing transportation and child care costs.
Housing has the greatest impact on working families and their budgets. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calculates that typical United States residents spend 30% of their incomes on rent. According to HUD, the fair market rent in Portland for a one bedroom apartment is $1,100 and for a two bedroom, $1,400. This would mean that a single parent who needs a two bedroom apartment would have to make $57,666 a year to provide for a family in Portland. This high cost would be extremely difficult to meet, as many single parents and New Americans live in poverty. According to HUD, in 2017, the median income for a family in poverty in Portland was $17,300. A single parent or New American would need to make three times this income, or $28.50 an hour, to afford living in Portland.
Many families are working 60 or 80 hours a week in two or three part time jobs, and they are spending more than 30% of their incomes on rent. They need to live where the jobs are available. This incredible demand on their time and talents translates into a lack of career advancement, diminished savings, and feeling trapped in a cycle of low-wage, part-time jobs.
New Americans come with few resources, relationships, and connections. Catholic Charities Refugee Immigration Services (RIS) Employment Case Management Services strives to offer solutions to these significant challenges. We are the only statewide program with four offices: Biddeford, Portland, Lewiston and Augusta, working exclusively with refugees, and asylees on job placement, transportation, child care, housing, job readiness, career advancement, and cultural education and integration with employers. In the past three years, RIS placed 515 refugees and asylees in jobs.
For more information, please visit Catholic Charities website:
Or contact employment case managers in the following cities:

Greater Portland Area
Ria Butera | Cell: 207-956-1865 | E-mail: [email protected]
Address: 80 Sherman Street, Portland, ME

Lewiston Area
Fatuma Ismael | Cell: 207-317-9109 | E-mail: [email protected]
Address: 37 Park St, #204 Lewiston, ME

Augusta Area
Hasan Al Khafaji | Cell: 207-272-7004 | E-mail: [email protected]

Tae Chong, Manager of Social Enterprise and Workforce at Catholic Charities Maine