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Why Maine needs a younger workforce—and what it can do to get one

Stepping away from “the demographic cliff”

PORTLAND, Maine — The unemployment rate in Maine at the end of 2020 came in at just 2.9%. In Hancock, Kennebec, Oxford, Penobscot, Waldo and Washington counties, the jobless rates were the lowest ever recorded for the month of December. In the Bangor metropolitan area, the unemployment rate was a skimpy 2.7%; in Portland-South Portland, a mere 2.3%.

Woo-hoo! Bring on the champagne! That’s great news, right?

Well…before you pop the cork, consider this: the state’s unemployment rate may actually be too low, a reflection of a workforce that is not as large or young as needed. Since Maine has the oldest population in the country—yes, older than that of Florida—staffing challenges are already starting to crimp economic growth, and the problems will only get worse without a different approach.

Yellow Light Breen, the president of the non-partisan Maine Development Foundation, says the shortage of workers is already putting the brakes on growth. “You see hospitality businesses cutting their hours, cutting their days of operation,” he says. “You see a lot of other businesses automating processes…and guess what? Those jobs don’t necessarily come back later.”

So what can Maine do to avoid what’s sometimes called the demographic cliff? Watch our interview with Breen for a fresh look at some of the economic challenges—and solutions—people are talking about.

Take a look at the Maine Economic Development Strategy by clicking here.

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