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Maine's shortage of young people is a big problem, experts say

<p>Maine is facing a major population problem, not enough young people. Most of the state has been losing population for several years and it’s predicted to get worse.</p>

Don Carrigan (NEWS CENTER)

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PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Maine is facing a population problem, one the director of the Office of Policy and Management calls “dire”. Most of the state has been losing population for several years and it’s predicted to get worse.

Maine is statistically the oldest state in the county. Many people in government and business say the real problem is a declining number of young people.

The Maine Department of Labor says there are 100,000 fewer people age 0 - 20 than those age 40 - 60. They say it poses a major challenge for the years ahead because there won’t be enough workers to take the places of all the retirees.

Other numbers coming out of Maine are just as sobering.

In 2016, there were roughly 13,600 deaths, but about 12,500 births in Maine. The state says it was the fourth year in a row that more people died in Maine than were born.

“It's a real challenge,” said Jonathan LaBonte, director of the Office of Policy and Management, “and I'm not sure folks really have a handle on how dire the situation is.”

Businesses in many parts of the state already see problems finding enough workers, especially in skilled positions. At Volk Packaging in Biddeford, HR Director Atoka Dumont says young people often have no interest in manufacturing, making it even more difficult to recruit new workers.

“Our average age is about 45,” said Dumont. “So we're needing younger people to come in and learn the trades and grow and progress in the company.”

Dumont said other businesses in York County face similar challenges finding workers, despite the fact York is one of the very few Maine counties that has slightly increased in population. Over the next 17 years, only four of Maine’s 16 counties are projected to grow, and even those numbers are not expected to be large. That is expected to increase pressure on employers who need to fill job vacancies or expand.

Hospitals say they're already trying to plan for it. Studies show a major shortage of nurses over the next ten years. Rebecca Lamey of Maine General Hospital says the state as a whole is facing a projected shortage of nurses ranging from 4,000 to as high as 9,000. She said there will need to be hundreds more nurses trained each year than are currently graduating the state’s nursing schools. Lamey said those schools don’t currently have the capacity to meet the increased need.

Leaders in both business and government say Maine will have to find new ways to keep more of our high school and college graduates living and working in Maine, persuade others to come home, and at the same time recruit significant numbers of people from the U.S. and other countries to move to Maine.

“The numbers in Maine don't work without immigration, immigration from overseas from the United States and other states,” said Nate Wildes of Harpswell.

Wildes works for the online resource called “Live + Work in Maine”. It was started by job recruiter Ed McKersie as a way to reach out to people who might want to move to Maine and find jobs.

Business leaders say the coming shortage of young workers will force businesses to be more creative and offer more incentives to attract workers. They also say it will be more important than ever to have schools promote job skill training, so young people can contribute to the workforce.

The shortage of workers is already affecting political debate, with Republicans pushing for income tax cuts to make Maine more attractive as a place to live, and Democrats pushing for more spending on education, to better prepare the young people we have.

On Facebook, Mainers are weighing in on how they think the state can attract young people and families to live and work here. Keep the conversation going by sending us your ideas.