"Both Maine and New Hampshire are growing at a far lower rate than the populaion as a whole," says Peter Francese, forecaster with the New England Economic Partnership, a non-profit that studies demographic developments in the six northeastern states. "Both Maine and New Hampshire are growing at somewhere around half of one percent a year, roughly, whereas the rest of the country's growing at about one percent a year, or better."
Which means, he says, that by 2020, faster-growing states -- the so-called Sunbelt states such as Texas, California, and the Carolinas -- will have grown enough to tip the balance against northeastern states such as Maine -- whose population actually declined slightly in the latest census figures.
"It's a fairly complex picture of lack of affordable housing, which is not such a big deal now, and lack of jobs," Francese says. "Young people have been leaving northern New England for quite some time, and that is really going to be very tough to reverse."
"If the last 40 years continue as they have been, then the 2020 census is probably the earliest at which Maine and New Hampshire could be at risk for losing a seat," says economist Charles Colgan, professor of public policy at USM's Muskie School.
While he admits the loss of a congressional seat for Maine and New Hampshire is a possibility, a lot will depend on migration trends over the next decade, and long-term trends, Colgan says, are changing in response to the economic slowdown. "The movement to the Sunbelt, to the west and to the south, has clearly dramatically slowed in this recession, and this is the area of the country that's had the most problems with housing and their economies."
Some observers are openly skeptical about the claims that Maine may lose a congressional seat in the next decade. "Either the population of the rest of the country would have to grow a lot faster than I think it's going to or Maine would have to shrink a lot more before we get to that point -- I'd be surprised if it happened in ten years," says Oliver Woshinsky, author of Explaining Politics.
Woshinsky points out that, currently, each congressional seat is worth on average nearly 650,000 inhabitants, and Maine's population is currently more than twice that. Furthermore, he adds, trends can change significantly in ten years. "People may start discovering the benefits of living in Maine, and/or Maine people could start producing more children," he says. "It's just very hard to make these kinds of predictions based on extrapolating recent developments."
Whether Maine loses a congressional seat or not, one thing is for certain, says John Mahon, Dean of UMaine's School of Business --
the state's aging population, combined with a shrinking population, is a real cause for economic concern. "When you tie it into the fact that the state of Maine is the oldest state in the country and the fastest aging state in the country, any shrinkage of population sends a chilling signal, if you'd like, to businesses that might be willing to invest in the state of Maine in terms of jobs and future employment."
The state coffers meanwhile, says Mahon, have to bear an ever-growing burden. "It also puts us once again on this continual merry-go-round of increasing governmental costs in the form of Medicare and Medicaid and things like that, and a reducing tax base." Mahon is also worried by the loss of political clout that would follow the removal of one congressional seat.
Not everyone, though, thinks this is necessarily a bad idea. "I may be a minority of one, but I think at the end of the day if Maine was forced to go to a single representative, it might actually be very good for the state," says Bowdoin Political Science Professor Chris Potholm. "Because both Collins and Snowe, for example, the senators, they have to be for the whole state, and if we only had one representative, he or she would have to be for the whole state as well. And it might go a long way to do away with this nonsense of the two Maines.
Currently, seven states have just one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The largest is Montana with a population of 905,000.