Cars and trucks travel on the Maine Turnpike on the Interstate 95 near exit 48 in Portland in January 2020. Thousands of Mainers travel on I-95 to jobs in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Credit: Troy R. Bennett

For some Mainers, traveling across New England is a daily routine. That’s because nearly 30,000 people live in Maine but commute elsewhere for work, according to census data.  

That is around 4 percent of Maine workers 16 and over, a share that has remained around the same since 2000, though it remains to be seen whether pandemic changes could further change that rate. The vast majority work in nearby New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Some may see working in a state different from where they live as an inconvenience. It can complicate tax returns and is likely to add to time spent going to and from work. But the number of people who continue to do so reflects the complex tradeoffs that many people make when finding a place to live.

There is a significant housing component to cross-border employment. People can work elsewhere while getting Maine’s relatively cheaper housing value — as well as a more rural surroundings — if they are willing to drive a little longer.

While the median value of a home in Essex County, Massachusetts — the closest county in the state to Maine — is $627,000, it is $455,000 in York County, according to Zillow. That is also significantly cheaper than the $528,000 median cost in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, also a place that many Mainers travel for work.

The data does not include any of the 54,000 Maine residents who worked from home in 2020, many of whom work for out-of-state firms. Their number is undoubtedly higher since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nonetheless, out-of-state commuters are still likely to spend a significant amount of time driving, especially the closer the workplace gets to Boston. Boston itself is around one hour from Kittery, though that can increase with rush-hour traffic.

Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire have larger economies than Maine, and thus more jobs. That factor especially applies to Massachusetts, which has a GDP almost nine times that of Maine, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis for 2021. New Hampshire’s economy is also about a third larger than Maine’s despite the states having similar populations.

While the majority who travel out of state go to New Hampshire’s counties bordering Maine, thousands of others work elsewhere. Practically all of Maine’s major communities have contingents of employees who work in another state, including Cape Elizabeth with 4 percent of its workers 16 and over heading outside the state; Gorham and Poland, 3 percent each; Bar Harbor, Portland, South Portland and Ellsworth, 2 percent each; and Lewiston, 1 percent.

Even Bangor, which is a two-and-one-half hour commute from New Hampshire, has over 100 residents who work out of state, making up around 1 percent of its workforce 16 or over.

Maine ranks 20th in the U.S. in state residents not working in their state: Maryland at 16 percent had the highest rate and California, at 0.5 percent, the lowest.