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It appears that Maine may be a beneficiary of the “great resignation.” During the past two years, migration to Maine — the number of people moving to the state — outpaced most of the rest of the country.
Maine’s net migration was the highest in New England and the seventh highest in the country, as a percentage of population, from July 2019 to July 2021.
This is unabashed good news in the oldest state in the nation, where deaths continue to outnumber births.
Economists, demographic experts and business leaders have long warned that Maine faced economic stagnation and chronic workforce shortages if more people did not move to the Pine Tree State.
The numbers from the last two years don’t mean that these challenges have been eliminated or overcome, but they could mean that Maine is moving in the right direction.
To be clear, the numbers are small: Maine’s population grew by more than 16,500 in 2020 and just under 10,000 in 2021. That, however, is much faster than overall U.S. population growth. 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.
Most of the new arrivals in Maine are from other states; a small percentage are from other countries.
During what has been termed the great resignation, or great reshuffling — the economic and workplace upheaval caused the COVID-19 pandemic — many people are looking for something better, Maine’s state economist, Amanda Rector, told the Bangor Daily News editorial board during a recent conversation. Maine is a good place to find that “better,” she said.
Rector said it was too early to tell if the recent growth was the beginning of a new trend, like the Back to the Land Movement of the 1970s, or more like the blip that came after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
While the state does not yet have data on the ages of the new arrivals in Maine and where they have settled, there is anecdotal information from school enrollments, real estate transactions and driver’s license transfers. That information shows that while there is growth in southern Maine, new arrivals are also moving to rural parts of the state, especially Rangeley and Greenville, according to Heather Johnson, the commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Johnson and Rector spoke of the importance of Mainers and their communities making efforts to ensure that these new Mainers feel welcome and are helped to acclimate to life in Maine. Workplaces are typically where new arrivals meet their colleagues and neighbors. During the pandemic, many people are working remotely. This makes Maine an attractive place for people who can work from home. However, working from home can also be isolating, Johnson said. So it is critical that people who are new to the state have other connections to their new neighborhood, town or school district.
Johnson pointed to the work of local chambers of commerce, school districts and the group Live + Work in Maine for taking on much of this work. Live + Work in Maine, for example, holds virtual and in-person events for people who are new to Maine or have recently returned to Maine.
“We want them to feel the strong community that we feel here so that they will stay here,” Johnson said.
Addressing the affordability of housing, especially in southern Maine, is another challenge.
But, for now, the in-migration and population growth look to be a silver lining in an otherwise difficult time.