April 26, 2018
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Where Maine is losing its workers the fastest

Micky Bedell | BDN
Micky Bedell | BDN
A hunter stands out among brown fall trees in Oxbow on Nov. 8, 2016.
By Adanya Lustig, BDN staff

Editor’s note: For more on trends in Maine’s rural places, visit here for the Maine Focus team’s ongoing series, Rural Edges.

Maine as a whole has started to decline in population, but the rural reaches of the state started experiencing that reality much sooner.

Looking back over the last 45 years, Maine had the greatest portion of people in their prime working years, considered ages 25-54, in 1999.

Between then and 2015, the counties along the rural rim of Maine lost 20.67 percent of their prime working-age people. Those counties are Oxford, Franklin, Somerset, Piscataquis, Aroostook and Washington.

The rest of Maine’s counties lost 8.6 percent.

Washington, Aroostook and Piscataquis counties lost the greatest percentage of their core working-age population in that time, at 27.46 percent, 26.71 percent and 25.87 percent, respectively.

The chart below shows the percentage of people in their prime working years (25 to 54) for each of the counties.

More deaths than births

This shift in Maine’s age groups was gradual, but 2011 was a milestone year. That was the year when deaths began to outnumber births.

But the rim counties — Oxford, Franklin, Somerset, Piscataquis, Aroostook and Washington — reached that point much earlier. The last time they saw more births than deaths in the aggregate was in 1995, according to vital statistics data compiled by the BDN.

In 2015, for example, some 130 Piscataquis County residents were born, while 232 died — meaning the number of births in the county amounted to only 56 percent of the number of deaths.

Maine’s remaining 10 counties, as a group, saw deaths start to outnumber births in 2013.

The chart below shows the ratio of births to deaths for the rim counties and the non-rim counties.

In 1970, people of prime working age — those ages 25 to 54 — made up about the same share of the population in the rim counties (32.67 percent) and the rest of the state (33.23 percent).

Since then, the “two Maines” have followed roughly the same pattern in changes to the working-age population, but the gap between them has grown gradually wider.

In 2015, prime working-age people made up 35.72 percent of the population in Maine’s rural rim counties, compared with 38.35 percent in the rest of the state, according to a BDN analysis of U.S. Census data.

The chart below shows what share of the population people in their prime working years made up since 1970 for the rim counties as a whole, and the other counties as a whole.

Since 1970

Children once made up almost half the population in the rim counties. Now they make up about a quarter of the population.

In 1970, 47 percent of the rim county population was under the age of 24. By 2015, it was 26 percent.

The chart below shows how each age group’s share of the population has changed over the years.

Erin Rhoda, Matt Stone, Danielle McLean and Rosie Hughes contributed to the data analysis. 

Maine Focus is a journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News. Questions? Write to mainefocus@bangordailynews.com.

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