Friday, April 21, 2017

Aging population in Maine, the nation's oldest and whitest state, impacting workforce

Washington County,
Maine (Wikipedia map)
Maine, which is the nation's oldest and whitest state and has the largest percentage of rural population, is facing a population crisis, Hansi Lo Wang reports for NPR. Maine has one of the nation's lowest birth rates and is seeing young people leave for other states, leading employers to struggle to fill positions. Even those that are able to hire enough workers, face an uncertain future, with many aging workers.

For example, Charles Rudelitch, executive director of the Sunrise County Economic Council in Washington County, told Wang, "We have a lot people who are at their prime earning years, in their 50s and early 60s, and they're beginning to retire."

One solution could be immigrants, Wang writes. A Pew Research Center study found that "new immigrants will be the main drivers of growth in the U.S. workforce through 2035." Immigrants, mainly Somali and Sudanese refugees, have migrated to Maine's largest cities, but have been slower to relocate to the state's rural areas. Latinos only make up one percent of the state's population, although some towns, like Washington County's Milbridge with six percent of the population Latino, have seen higher numbers.

Not everyone in Maine has been welcoming to immigrants, Wang writes. "About a decade ago, tensions over new immigrants settling in Milbridge spilled over. There was a legal battle over building a small apartment complex for local farmworkers, most of whom are Hispanic, after voters approved a moratorium on multi-family units. The apartments were eventually built."

Annie Sokoloski, an office manager in Steuben, Maine, located in Washington County, "sees newcomers to Milbridge as a welcome addition, especially at job fairs and other recruiting events," Wang reports. "Still, she says she is concerned about the future of Down East Maine's economy." She told him, "It's disheartening. It's going to be more of a retirement-type area. There's nothing to really sustain a long-term growth of a younger generation." Sokoloski said after she retires she'll probably move away.

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