Augusta is either one of the best small towns or one of the worst places to live in Maine

Maine artist Elizabeth Busch's work titled "Home" hangs in the glassed atrium at the Cultural Building in Augusta on Sept. 17, 2015. (Troy R. Bennett | BDN)

Maine artist Elizabeth Busch’s work titled “Home” hangs in the glassed atrium at the Cultural Building in Augusta on Sept. 17, 2015. (Troy R. Bennett | BDN)

I was reading that Augusta made yet another list, this one sponsored by According to Roadsnacks, it’s the second worst place in Maine to live. Skowhegan is No. 1.

The site says the designations are crime-based, and I’ve written in previous post about Augusta being deemed one of the best small towns in America that these same statistics reflect a considerable number of property crimes linked to the addiction epidemic.

I think this proliferation of these types of lists is getting kind of nonsensical. However, the list made me think of two things.

First, it made me think of another list I read earlier about most counties losing income since 2000, a loss attributed largely to losses in manufacturing and the industries that support it. The article noted that seven of our counties have seen a cumulative loss of more than 10 percent. Oxford County topped the list with a 14.4-percent loss.

Putting the two lists together — and undermining my own argument about the original list’s nonsensical nature — is interesting. Nine of the 10 worst places to live were in the counties that had seen income losses of more than 10 percent. The ninth worst place was Lewiston in Androscoggin County, which saw a 7.8 percent loss in income over the period.

In my previous post about the community of Augusta, I wrote about the difference coming of age in the 1980s when there still was a thriving manufacturing sector in central Maine versus what it’s like for my children to come of age now when there isn’t that economic safety net. From an economic standpoint, it’s much harder to get by now. These lists are windows on how manufacturing losses are playing out for our communities.

Not too well for some people.

The Roadsnacks list also got me thinking about some of the things I heard students at Cony High School say when I was there Monday. A friend had asked me to participate in a Diversity Day activity at the school. I and another co-host were brought in to have a discussion about what it was like to grow up with dark skin in Maine.

I had mentioned to my co-host that, at least with the millennials with whom I’ve interacted, things like race and gender and sexuality aren’t as big a deal as they were when we were young. Sure, kids still say stupid stuff in the heat of the moment, but on a fundamental level, they just don’t have a sense that race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or religion define the character or worth of a person. I suggested that social status and economic delineation were a much bigger problem for them.

There were two group sessions, and in both sessions most of the kids agreed with the idea that they really didn’t think one particular racial group was better than another. One teacher who was present confirmed that millennials were much more tolerant of each other than my generation had been. It was nice to hear from a professional I knew from my days at Cony. She wasn’t the only teacher who agreed, but she’s been at the school and in the field so long she was able to speak to the progression and attributed it to curriculum changes that teach tolerance from elementary school onward.

And the teachers and students agreed that social strata stuff was a far bigger problem. The second group especially latched on to the topic. (I think they were more awake than the first group.) The kids talked about being judged based on things like clothes and the difference between wearing $50 jeans and $15 jeans. Several of the kids identified exactly where they felt they fit in on the social strata at school, and a few admitted to developing pride around their loser or nerd status.

Again the teachers agreed with the kids’ self-assessment and said it was most evident in the cafeteria. The seating at the tables reflected the social strata lines, and they are not crossed.

My co-host was quite surprised to learn that these Maine millennials may not see blacks or gays or Muslims as inferior, but carry the wrong smartphone or no smartphone at all, and they see difference. I can’t help but think these social challenges are directly related to the fact that the communities these students call home have been economically left behind. Kennebec County has seen a 10.7-percent drop in income since 2000.

Which is all these kids’ lives.

While it’s heartening to think of millennial as more tolerant when it comes to much of the baggage of their parents and grandparents, it’s genuinely sad to see them differentiating on mostly economically and opportunity-based lines. I realized property crime isn’t the only concerning measure when it comes to quality of life in Augusta.

Another measure is the number of students that morning who were willing to deem themselves losers.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.