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The Maine Department of Labor recently released its outlook for employment in the state through 2030. While there are cautions about the aging of the state’s workforce, the outlook isn’t as dire as it has sometimes been portrayed.
Yes, Maine’s workforce is aged and many people will retire in the coming years. The other bad news is that deaths continue to exceed births in Maine. However, the pandemic spurred migration to the state, which will offset some of the loss of workers.
This is the first employment outlook since the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020.
“The health emergency of 2020 reversed the cyclical migration pattern,” the report said. “Many people opted to move from congested, to less densely populated places, driving an influx of people to the state. Data is not yet available, but it appears the pattern of in-migration continued in 2022.”
The Labor Department predicts that the size of Maine’s workforce will peak in 2024 and then slowly decline. But, the report said, this projection could change with continued in-migration.
“Rising migration to the state offsets some of the downward trend in the working-age population of current residents,” the report said. “It is unclear at this point how long this pattern will continue and at what magnitude. It is quite possible that in-migration will outweigh the constraints of the existing population for several more years, stabilizing the size of the labor force.”
In late December, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that Maine’s population was 1,385,340 on July 1, 2022. This was up by 8,102 from the year before. According to an annual migration patterns study from Atlas Van Lines, Maine ranked second in the country for highest percentage of inbound moves.
Here’s another reason the shrinking number of workers may not be as bad as it seems. Focusing solely on the number of workers overlooks productivity gains, Glenn Mills, the deputy director of the Center for Workforce Research at the Maine Department of Labor, recently explained to the Bangor Daily News editorial board.
These gains in productivity — about 2 percent a year — will offset the departures from the workforce, he said. The gains come from technological advances and changes in how business is done.
Mills does offer one caution however. Workers who are nearing retirement have often built up knowledge and technical skills that can’t always be easily or quickly replaced. Employers should do more, he suggested, to ensure this knowledge and skills are not lost as Baby Boomers leave the workforce.
The workforce challenges are also somewhat ameliorated because most Maine employers serve their local communities, so population growth and declines tend to mirror employment growth. Grocery stores, banks, hospitals and retailers, for example, don’t need to grow if the population of the communities they serve is not growing, Mills explained.
The large exceptions are manufacturing and tourism. Manufacturers often serve customers outside of Maine or outside of the country. The demand for their goods is not determined by local buyers. Many of these companies are facing a shortage of workers.
Tourism, of course, serves customers who come from far beyond the state’s boundaries. And, it is heavily focused on the summer, when many young workers are available. Therefore, filling tourism jobs remains a challenge.
Another thing to keep in mind is that workforce changes are constant. The Department of Labor predicts that there will be 750,000 job openings in Maine over the next decade. These aren’t new jobs, but positions that become available as people move from one career or industry to another.
One message is clear from the employment outlook: Maine remains reliant on people moving to the state from other places. This is true not just to fill jobs, but for the state’s overall vibrancy as well.