Every year or two the idea of “The Two Maines” gets a shot in the arm from Island Falls state Rep. Henry Joy in the form of a call for “the real Maine” to secede from the Union, or at least to separate from the large area south of Bangor he would call Northern Massachusetts.
While these ideas are generally derided as economically suicidal, they do raise the question of what to do about the real differences between northern and southern Maine.
The idea I find most intriguing is that northern Maine is “the real Maine,” the place where “real Mainers” live. Is there, I wondered, any demographic truth to that belief? Is there, for instance, a significantly different percentage of native-born Mainers in the rural parts of the state than in the urban parts? Have more rural Mainers lived closer to home than urban Mainers? Is the percentage of urban Mainers who have moved from away much larger than the percentage of rural transplants?
Sure enough, according to census data for the 2006 to 2008 period, 67 percent of rural Mainers were born in Maine compared with 64 percent of urban Mainers. But, surprisingly, both categories in Maine are less provincial than their respective national averages.
For the nation as a whole, 70 percent of rural Americans were born in their state of residence, and 66 percent of urban residents were born in their current home state. “Real Iowans” and “Real Georgians” are apparently more often found in rural areas as well.
As regards the “from away” question, the rural-urban distinction in Maine is strong.
In rural Maine, only 2.1 percent of the population lived in another state during the prior year. This share was only slightly lower than the 2.2 percent for rural Americans nationwide.
In urban Maine, in contrast, 3.7 percent of the population had moved from another state in the most recent year. This share was nearly 40 percent higher than the 2.7 share for urban residents nationwide.
In short, rural Maine is similar to rural areas across the country in its relative lack of people “from away.”
But the significance of that relative homogeneity may be greater in Maine because of the much greater share of people “from away” in our urban areas.
How about internal movement? Nationwide, 14 percent of urban Americans and 10 percent of rural Americans had, within the past year, moved from another house within the same state.
In Maine, the urban-rural differential is substantially greater. For urban Mainers, 16 percent had moved within the state over the past year, while only 8.6 percent of rural Mainers had made such intra-state moves.
Does this mean that rural Mainers are really just content with “life the way it should be” and have no interest in moving? I doubt it. In fact, I suspect that our above-average number of mobile urban dwellers is the result of rural Mainers moving from rural to urban areas.
My guess — and these census data alone can’t prove this point — is that our urban-rural movement differential is the result of a combination of urban sprawl and a rural exodus resulting from a relative lack of economic opportunity.
In short, rural Maine is significantly different from urban Maine. But that difference is more the result of a slow growing economy resulting in an ever older and more dependent rural populace than a satisfaction with the character of rural life.
Charles Lawton is senior economist for Planning Decisions, a public policy research firm. He can be reached at: