January 28, 2020
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Can Canada save Maine’s population? See immigration trends across time with this interactive map

Top country of origin by state and year.

[Pew Research Center] Top country of origin by state and year.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Pew Research Center released a report this week finding that the percentage of foreign-born people in America is on pace to reach a record high over the next half century, climbing from a low point of 4.7 percent in 1970 to nearly 18 percent by 2065.

Nationwide, the percentage of the American population that is foreign-born is currently about 13 percent. In Maine, the percentage is less than 4 percent.

Over the next 50 years, Pew expects new immigrants and their descendants — representing an estimated 103 million people — to account for almost the entirety of the projected U.S. population increase, at around 88 percent of it.

In its report, Pew attributes much of the upward trajectory of America’s foreign-born population to 1965’s Immigration and Nationality Act, which reversed a decades-long decline in immigration by making what Pew described as “significant changes to U.S. immigration policy.”

Those changes involved “sweeping away a long-standing national origins quota system that favored immigrants from Europe and replacing it with one that emphasized family reunification and skilled immigrants,” Pew explained.

As is apparent in the time-lapse map above, as well as in Pew’s interactive map found here, in the decades since the 1965 immigration reform, Mexico — as well as a smattering of Asian countries — widely replaced European countries as the origin of immigrants to the U.S.

One of the few places seemingly immune to the rapid diversification of immigrants since the passage of the act is Maine, which — along with its northern New England neighbors of New Hampshire and Vermont — has largely drawn its immigration from neighboring Canada since the mid-1800s.

As the only foreign country Maine borders, Canada is a natural source of immigrants for the Pine Tree State. A Mexican immigrant would need to travel about 2,000 miles through several other states to reach Maine, by comparison.

However, as Maine continues to get older, its Baby Boomer population retires from the work force, and its annual deaths continue to surpass annual births, Canada has not been able to provide the public revitalization Maine needs.

Canada is demographically very similar to Maine — overwhelmingly white, at 86 percent of the population, and older, with a median age of 40.6. Maine is about 95 percent non-Hispanic whites, with the nation’s oldest median age of 43.5 years old.

Those populations are statistically likely to have smaller families, often without children. And older immigrants, many of whom are retirees or will soon be, don’t represent a long-term solution to Maine’s well-documented work force shortage.

Compare that to the effect Mexican and Asian immigrants seem to be having on demographics across the rest of the country.

Reports Pew:

“The arrival of so many immigrants slightly reduced the nation’s median age, the age at which half the population is older and half is younger. The U.S. population’s median age in 1965 was 28 years, rising to 38 years in 2015 and a projected 42 years in 2065. Without immigration since 1965, the nation’s median age would have been slightly older — 41 years in 2015; without immigration from 2015 to 2065, it would be a projected 45 years.”

To be clear, Pew researchers are predicting that immigration will slow — not reverse — the aging of America. But Maine would be fortunate to similarly buy itself time.

By 2055, no racial or ethnic group will make up a majority of the U.S. population, with non-Hispanic whites dropping below 50 percent of the overall population and Hispanic and Asian populations growing significantly.

Pew found public opinion about immigration to be mixed. The organization’s researchers found that while about 45 percent of Americans said they feel immigrants are making the U.S. better in the long run (compared to 37 percent who don’t), 50 percent feel immigrants are to blame for increased crime and economic woes.

Pluralities of 49 percent and 29 percent felt immigrants contribute positively to American culture and science/technology, respectively, Pew found. (Eleven percent and 12 percent, respectively, responded that they felt immigrants are having negative impacts on culture and science/technology.)

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