Editor’s note: For more on trends in Maine’s rural places, visit here for the Maine Focus team’s ongoing series, Rural Edges.

Maine lost population unevenly over the last 15 years. Some counties hollowed out, while others grew in population.

In 2015, Aroostook County had 5,000 fewer people than in 2000. This loss was from both more people dying than being born, and more people moving away than moving in.

The change has real effects. The Aroostook Agency on Aging, for instance, has had trouble filling entry-level positions to care for elderly residents, said Steve Farnham, the agency’s executive director.

The situation is different in southern Maine. Cumberland County gained almost 24,000 people between 2000 and 2015. That’s because births outnumbered deaths, and people moving in outnumbered people moving out.

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Sometimes when people leave or die, their homes are left empty. In some places, like the area around Eustis, as few as 10 percent of homes were occupied on average between 2010 and 2014. Of course many homes are seasonal, meaning it’s important to look at the trends over time. And they are revealing. Between 2007 and 2011, 18 percent of homes in that area were occupied.

A place is considered unoccupied if no one lives there, or people live there for fewer than two months of the year. The five-year averaged estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey do not break out the percentage of homes that are seasonal.

Piscataquis County has the greatest percentage of vacant homes, at 57 percent. Franklin County also has more vacant than occupied homes, at 52 percent. There is a 46-point difference between Piscataquis and Androscoggin, the county with the lowest vacancy rate, at 11 percent.

The remaining counties’ vacancy rates are as follows: Hancock (48 percent), Oxford (46 percent), Somerset (43 percent), Knox (43 percent), Washington (42 percent), Lincoln (37 percent), Aroostook (33 percent), Penobscot (28 percent), Cumberland (25 percent), Waldo (23 percent), York (23 percent), Sagadahoc (20 percent) and Kennebec (19 percent).

The chart below shows occupancy rates by zip code, averaged over a five-year period. Type in your zip code to see the situation where you live.

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Erin Rhoda, Matt Stone, Danielle McLean and Rosie Hughes contributed to the data analysis. 

Maine Focus is a journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News. Questions? Write to mainefocus@bangordailynews.com.

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