BANGOR, Maine — Maine’s population, which in general has long been the oldest of any state in the country, has grown even older, according to new census data released this week.
Though Maine’s national rank in that category won’t be known until more data are released this summer, the trend comes as little surprise to folks who pay attention to such things.
According to the Census Bureau, the state’s population under age 20 has decreased by 7.3 percent while that of the 20- to 39-year-old category has dipped by 8.2 percent. That’s in contrast to big increases in the 40-64 and 65 and over categories, which jumped by 18.3 percent and 15.1 percent, respectively. Those figures mean Maine’s median age increased from 38.6 years old in 2000 to 42.7 years old in 2010.
“Maine continues to get older,” said Joel Johnson, an economist for the State Planning Office. “That’s a trend that’s happening in general across the country and across the world, not just in Maine. I would be surprised if when the U.S. data comes out that we don’t continue to have the highest median age of all the states.”
Lincoln and Piscataquis counties were the oldest in the state, each with a median age of 48.1 years. Androscoggin and Penobscot counties were the youngest at 39.8 years and 39.9 years, respectively.
Diana Scully, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Elder Services, said her data suggest that in another 10 years, Maine will have the highest percentage of residents over age 65, second only to Florida. While that will undoubtedly strain public resources, Scully said, she sees the trend as a sort of gift because it has forced federal, state and local governments to develop new ways to care for the elderly.
“There are both challenges and opportunities,” she said. “The challenges are looking at what are the issues and needs that face people as they age. I also believe older people have a lot to offer and that they can give back. It’s a fascinating and timely topic, this aging of our population.”
Scully said the practical effect of Maine’s aging population is gradually shifting more people out of nursing homes and into the care of their families — and to some degree state dollars follow.
“One of the things that is probably hidden from Mainers is the role that families play,” said Scully. “They make a huge contribution. If you quantified and counted it out, it would be in the millions and millions of dollars that they’re contributing. No one ages thinking, ‘I want to go to a nursing home.’ What people really want is services in their homes.”
The aging trend also has led to more disease-prevention programs, such as Maine’s Matter of Balance program, which focuses on preventing falls. So what makes Maine the oldest state in the nation? Scully said it is a combination of factors ranging from people who stay put in the northern regions while younger people move elsewhere looking for work, to the fact some of Maine’s coastal communities are becoming destinations for retirees.
This week’s census data roll-out also provided a picture of Maine’s housing stock and an increasing percentage of racial minorities. Some of the highlights, as presented by the State Planning Office, were as follows:
— Maine’s black or African-American population more than doubled in size from 6,760 in 2000 to 15,707 in 2010. The number of Hispanic/Latino people grew 81 percent over the decade with almost 17,000 people of that origin in Maine.
— Lincoln County has the smallest racial minority population in percentage terms while Washington County has the largest percentage. About 4.9 percent of all people in Washington County identify themselves as American Indian/Alaska Native.
— The average household size in Maine was 2.32 people, a decrease from 2.39 people per household in 2000. The average family size also decreased slightly over the decade to 2.83 people in 2010.
— The percentage of Maine’s housing inventory that was for sale in 2010 was about 2.4 percent, up from 1.7 percent from 10 years ago. Piscataquis and Washington counties had the highest homeowner vacancy rates of 4.3 percent, while Cumberland County had the lowest at 1.7 percent.
— About 71.3 percent of all occupied housing units in Maine were owner-occupied, with the rest lived in by renters.
Julie Hashem, a spokesman for the Maine State Housing Authority, said that her agency has not yet researched the new census findings but that the housing stock data weigh heavily into planning efforts at both the state and local levels.
“We use it to track trends and affordability and assess housing needs,” she said. “Just about everyone at every level of government uses this data.”