Maine Needs Babies to Reverse Demographic Winter

Last week the U.S. Census Bureau released their “components of population change” estimates for 2013. Since we already knew that Maine lost population in 2013, the findings from this new data release were not surprising.

First, the data shows that Maine’s net natural population change (births minus deaths) has very likely moved permanently into negative territory–at least without a major course correction. Between 2011 and 2013, there has now been 751 more deaths than births and the trend appears to be accelerating.

Second, domestic migration in 2013 was also negative with 1,423 Mainers seeking greener pastures in other states. As with net natural population change, the trend over the last three years is showing an acceleration of Mainers leaving the state.

Third, the only bright spot in the data was that Maine continues to see some international in-migration with 1,042 people moving in from overseas. While modest, this international in-migration has helped to cushion the fall in Maine’s population.

However, this new data does not have a long enough time-series to discern the root causes of Maine’s declining population. Fortunately, I recently stumbled upon this excellent chart from the Maine Department of Labor (DOL) which shows the components of population change back to 1950.

Maine's Net Natural Population Growth 1950 to 2013

I have updated the DOL chart to reflect the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau which is shown above. The most important fact shown in this chart is the stunning decline in the number of births in Maine. Births have dropped by a whopping 41 percent to 12,566 in 2013 from 21,239 in 1950.

Additionally, those higher births in 1950 were achieved with fewer people. So adjusting births for population shows a drop in the birth rate of 59 percent to only 9.46 births per 1,000 people in 2013 from 23.2 in 1950.

I was also surprised to learn that since 1950, nearly all of Maine’s population growth was due to positive net natural population growth. From 1950 to 2013, Maine’s population grew by about 413,000 people. Of that growth, 363,000, or 88 percent, was due to natural population growth. Only 50,000, or 12 percent, was due to positive in-migration.

Overall, this data shows that we shouldn’t count on a surge of in-migration to solve Maine’s Demographic Winter. In fact, most of Maine’s in-migrants appear to be empty-nesters from Boston that will do little to boost the birth rate.

Therefore, the solution to Demographic Winter lies with the families that currently reside in Maine. But how do we encourage them to have more children?

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Maine’s birth rate has fallen as Maine’s tax burden has risen. Anyone who has ever raised a child(ren) knows that it is an expensive endevour. Yet, between 1950 and 2011, Maine’s state and local tax burden (as a percent of personal income) has increased by 57 percent to 12 percent in 2011 from 7.6 percent in 1950.

Think about this for a moment . . . in 1950 the average Maine family did not have to deal with an individual income tax (enacted in 1969) nor a sales tax (enacted in 1951). Maine needs a “back to the future” moment which is exactly what The Maine Heritage Policy Center’s Free ME initiative will do by eliminating the income and sales tax on a sustainable county-by-county basis.

A stronger economy can positively influence the birth rate, at least in the short tun. You can see in the chart that just before the housing bubble burst the number of births in Maine was on the uptick. And, New Hampshire continues to fare better than Maine in both economic and population growth.

Of course, fixing Maine’s high tax burden is not the only change that needs to happen to generate economic growth. Yet, if Free ME helps Maine’s families enough to boost the number of births by 10 percent then that is an additional 1,257 babies per year. This would buy us much needed time to fix Maine’s other pressing economic problems such as high energy costs, an out-of-control welfare system, or the lack of a right-to-work law.