Traffic streams down Congress Street in Portland on Tuesday Dec. 7, 2021. Credit: Troy R Bennett/BDN

Maine saw more migration during the COVID-19 pandemic than almost all other states during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the greatest population growth here in nearly two decades.

The sharp rise in population over the past two years comes on the heels of mostly anemic growth over the past decade, as Maine’s overall population rose just 2.6 percent between 2010 and 2020, compared with 7.4 percent growth nationally.

The state’s population increased to just more than 1,372,000 as of July 2021, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, an increase of nearly 10,000 compared with a year prior. The growth was driven entirely by migration into the state as Maine deaths still exceeded births by more than 6,300 during that period.

It follows similarly high growth in Maine during the previous year and bucks both regional and national trends. The total U.S. population increased by just 0.1 percent between July 2020 and July 2021 amid lower-than-normal birth rates, decreased international migration and higher mortality due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to census data.

Population growth varied widely between states, with the roughly 16,000 people who moved to Maine over the past year making it among the top U.S. destinations in terms of net migration. As a share of population, only six states — Idaho, Montana, Arizona, South Carolina, Delaware and Florida — attracted more new residents.

Maine also saw the greatest net migration — both in absolute and percentage terms — of any New England state, census data show. Neighboring New Hampshire came in second in the region with about 14,800 new residents on net, while Massachusetts was among the U.S. states seeing the most significant decrease in population.

The high migration, however, masks other challenges for Maine’s population growth. The state saw just 11,300 births for the year ending in July 2021, down from more than 11,500 in 2020 and 11,700 in 2019. Deaths increased markedly to more than 17,600, up from 15,700 a year prior and 15,000 in 2019.

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