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Maine One Of Three States With Shrinking Population
12/28/2009 05:25 PM ET   Reported By: Josie Huang

Maine has been seeing a slow but steady increase in its population over the last decade. But in 2009, that changed, according to the Census Bureau. Maine was one of just three states to see its population shrink, at a rate trailing Michigan and just ahead of Rhode Island.

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Maine has been seeing a slow but steady increase in its population over the last decade. But this past yeear, that changed, according to the Census Bureau.

Maine was one of just three states to see its population shrink in 2009 at a rate that trails Michigan, and is just ahead of Rhode Island.

"Maine's population decline is coming from domestic outmigration," says Amanda Rector, senior economist in the Maine State Planning Office.

"So more people moved from Maine to other states than moved from other states to Maine", says Rector.

In other states, Rector says, births help to offset the residents moving out. But she says that's not the case in Maine, with its older, predominantly white population and the second lowest birth rate in the country.

All of this has implications for the state economy.

"Population growth is a lot of what drives economic growth", says Rector.

" You want to see population growth so that businesses know that they'll have enough workers so they know they can hire enough people. It makes it difficult if you have a slow-growing population to prove to businesses that they will have workers that they need", Rector says.

Nearly 1,400 Mainers are estimated to have left the state in the last year - what amounts to one-tenth of a percent drop in population.

The Census doesn't give reasons for why people are coming and going from a state. But Census demographer Barbara van der Vate says the recession is likely a factor.

"The economic downturn has had an impact on the estimates. We know there's been a housing downturn. We know that plants have closed."

Maine economist Charlie Colgan questions whether the population drop is as big as the Census estimates.

But Colgan says he doesn't doubt that Maine's population growth has slowed since the earlier part of this decade. That's when an economic downturn had more people moving to Maine from other parts of New England.

"In the 2001 recession that was the tech bust and Massachusetts got hit especially hard so they had a lot of people moving to northern New England where the recession is very mild,' says Colgan

"Massachusetts has actually attracted peopel from the periphery of New England to come to Massachusetts."

Colgan, who is a public policy professor at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service, says that Maine saw a growth in new residents up until 2006.

"As the housing bust began to take effect, mobility became substnaily reduced and people couldn't sell their houses in other places", says Colgan.

"Maine suffered a reduction in domestic migration because of that and ultimately the recesssion put the end to any domestic migration and essentially turned it negative."

Colgan says that this problem is exacerbated by the closing of the Brunswick Naval Air station.

Because of the homogenity of Maine's population, state officials aren't counting on the low birth rate changing anytime soon. But Amanda Rector says that the state can try to turnaround its population decline by encouraging peopLe to move to Maine.

"It will be important for us to do what we can to encourage in-migration as we are faced with low birrth rates to try to remind people that Maine is a tremendous place to live and try to use those factors ino ur favor to bring people", says Rector.

In the meantime, the census is preparing for the official 2010 population count.
Those numbers will help determine how much the state gets from the federal government for everything from transportation to housing to health care.


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