New Population Projections Paint Grim Demographic Picture

Recently the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management (thanks to State Economist Amanda Rector) released new detailed projections of Maine’s population. As I blogged in “Maine’s Demographic Winter by County,” Maine is now only 1 of 2 states where there are more deaths than births. These projections show the long-term consequences of this historic shift.

Overall, Maine’s population is projected to peak in 2020 at 1.332 million people. Beyond 2020 Maine’s population will fall by 0.4 percent to 1.326 million.

More troubling is that the age composition of Maine’s population will dramatically change as well. In 2001, 26.1 percent of Maine’s population consisted of people under the age of 19. By 2030, the percentage of the population under the age of 19 will fall by 19.1 percent to 21.1 percent.

At the same time, the percentage of the population over the age of 65 will soar by a whopping 83.1 percent to 26.4 percent in 2030 from 14.1 percent in 2001. This inversion of the age pyramid will have severe economic ramifications–a shrinking workforce and tax base with increasing demand for healthcare workers and government entitlements.

Additionally, the impact of a shrinking and aging population will not be felt evenly throughout Maine. As shown in the graphic above, counties such as Lincoln (-15.2 percent), Piscataquis (-14 percent), Hancock (-10.3 percent), Somerset (-6.2 percent) and Washington and Aroostook (-5.3 percent) will bear the greatest burdens.

On the other hand, only five counties will enjoy continued population growth: Androscoggin (8.3 percent), Cumberland (3.1 percent), York (2.7 percent), Knox (4.6 percent) and Penobscot (2.4 percent).

The projections go all the way down to the town level. The top 5 towns, with starting populations over 1,000 people, that will lose the greatest percentage of population are: Millinocket (-43.2 percent), Eastport (-40.4 percent), Gouldsboro (-39.4 percent), Stonington (-38.9 percent), and Southwest Harbor (-35.6 percent).

The top 5 towns, with starting populations over 1,000 people, that will gain the greatest percentage of population are: Levant (42 percent), Limerick (31.4 percent), Waterboro (31.1 percent), Wales (30.2 percent), and Leeds (29.9 percent).

Based on the town data, the majority of people in Maine (based on 2010 population estimates) will be living under this Demographic Winter–697,665 live in towns facing population decline while 629,697 live in towns facing population growth.

From a policy perspective, it is easy to be complacent about Demographic Winter. After all, 2020 is still seven years away. The problem, however, is that the necessary policy changes to help avert this crisis must be made today–changes such as lower taxes, right-to-work, healthcare reform, and customized learning. The population clock is ticking.