March 23, 2013

Another View: Maine's population would grow if the economy were growing

It's not the ratio of births to deaths but a lack of good jobs that makes Maine stagnate.

By HAROLD McWILLIAMS

The Portland Press Herald recently carried the headline "Maine faces a dilemma as deaths top births" (March 15). The article noted that from July 2011 to July 2012, deaths in Maine exceeded births, 12,857 to 12,754.

Some of the comments that the reporter solicited around the state seem to offer a misleading interpretation of the data that were presented.

Amanda Rector, the state economist, said the natural decreases are an economic challenge for the state because "population growth is directly related to economic growth."

She seems to be saying that demographic trends are driving the economic ones and that we should be worried about our demographics.

Scott Moody, of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, refers to a "demographic winter" in Maine.

I believe these comments draw the wrong conclusions from the data. Our problem is not demographic; it's economic.

Historically, populations have grown when there have been positive changes in socioeconomic conditions. The same economic relationships prevail here in Maine. Population responds to the economy, not the other way around.

In Maine, counties with growing economies grew; those with stagnant economies shrank. Does anyone really think that if Maine families suddenly started having more children, then the economy would take off?

Opportunities, development and jobs will bring people to Maine for the quality of life, will encourage Maine families to have more kids and will keep young people within the state.

Alan Caron's suggestions ("Alan Caron: Instead of tax breaks for a few, invest in many entrepreneurs," March 14) that we stimulate our economy with thousands of smaller economic development loans and grants rather than with a few large ones that have a dubious track record are likely to improve conditions in Maine a lot more than worrying about the ratio of deaths to births.

Harold McWilliams is a resident of Gorham.

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