In the past four years that I have spent at Bangor High School, there has been a lot of talk about preparing for life after high school. I have heard some say that they want to stay in Maine, but a lot more talk about leaving. This is a problem that needs to be fixed to combat the aging population in Maine.
According to the World Bank, Maine has become what they call, “ super-aged,” meaning that at least one-fifth of the population of the state is over the age of 65. The problem with this then becomes the lack of personnel to take care of this population. This shortage causes the cost of care to go up and forces family members to have to take care of their loved ones themselves, with care for the elderly reaching up to $50 an hour, according to the Washington Post. Maine needs to find a way to keep Maine’s graduating seniors in Maine in the workforce.
To help with the aging population, Maine students must stay in Maine. The rising elderly population creates more job opportunities in that field. As a part of the school curriculum, there should be a class on career planning. This would involve looking into high demand jobs, wages, and further education. This class should be given to 11th-grade students that are trying to figure out what they want to do.
One way to do that would be to have incentives for students going into high-demand jobs, such as elderly care. Incentives can include higher-paying jobs and student loan forgiveness. This will encourage Maine graduates, who are in a generation of crippling student loan debt, to stay here, at least temporarily, to avoid the burden that is student loans.
Student loan forgiveness is another big incentive for students today. Student loan debt is the biggest problem facing graduating seniors today. In 1990, the in-state tuition at the University of Maine in Orono was $2,092. The tuition last year for in-state students was $9,000. This number is peanuts compared to the nearly $30,000 that out-of-state students are paying.
According to a 2018 BDN column by Martin Grohman, who was then a state lawmaker, “the average student loan indebtedness for a Mainer is approximately $31,000.” This ranked Maine the 8th highest in the nation, he wrote. If we want students to stay here, or students to come to Maine, we need to make it more affordable. This would be a huge incentive for Maine students.
Another is to provide high-paying jobs with opportunities for advancement. This strategy would require an influx of bigger businesses in the state. No matter how much we love our small businesses, the bigger companies provide higher pay, better benefits, and more opportunities for advancement. While our small businesses are important to Maine’s economy, big businesses can also help to keep people in Maine. According to the Maine Center for Workforce and Information, most of the jobs with the higher demand for workers also pay less than $20 an hour. This fact, coupled with the cost of living in Maine being 17.1% higher than the national average, according to US News, does not give Maine students reason to stay in Maine.
As a student that is leaving the state in the fall, I feel that I can speak on this issue. For me, there were not more incentives that made me want to stay here. I believe that the state needs to do more to try and keep the younger generation of Mainers interested in staying here in Maine. If we prepare students for careers here and have incentives for students and big businesses to come to Maine and stay in Maine, we can combat the issue of our aging population.
Austin Conway of Bangor is a senior at Bangor High School.