More people are aging out of the Maine labor force than are aging into it. What’s more, as long as our population remains racially uniform, our workforce will keep shrinking – making it harder and harder for us to compete economically with other states, maintain a healthy tax base and provide the services older residents need as they age.

New Census Bureau population data, which underscores that Maine is becoming both whiter and grayer, should wake us up to the fact that Maine won’t see more development until our state government stops denigrating ethnically and racially diverse newcomers and starts welcoming them here instead.

STATE COULD LOSE 15,000 WORKERS IN 10 YEARS

Maine isn’t the only state with a graying workforce. Since 2011, when the first members of the generation born between 1945 and 1964 turned 65, baby boomers have been reaching retirement age at the rate of 10,000 a day.

What makes our state different is that Maine has seen the largest increase in median age of any state: from 43.9 in 2013 to 44.2 in 2014, according to the census data released last week.

As this demographic trend plays out, Maine’s labor force is expected to shrink by an estimated 15,000 from 2012 to 2022, making it harder for businesses to replace employees after they retire.

Though immigrants account for just about 3 percent of Maine’s population, they’re a big piece of the solution to our state’s worker shortage.

Most are in their prime working years (ages 25 to 54) and eager for employment, stepping into the entry-level service-industry jobs that sustain Maine’s tourism economy and ensure front-line care for those in Maine’s hospitals and nursing homes.

WELL-EDUCATED NEWCOMERS

And in an era when learning is vital to career advancement, there are many well-educated immigrants in Maine. In 2013, 16.6 percent of foreign-born Mainers had a bachelor’s degree, according to the left-leaning Migration Policy Institute, lagging only slightly behind the 18.1 percent of college-educated U.S.-born Mainers.

Over 18 percent of immigrants to Maine had a graduate or professional degree, compared to the 9.8 percent of U.S.-born residents with the credential.

To a lesser extent, this disparity can be seen around New England, according to a 2012 Federal Reserve Bank paper. The same researchers found that highly educated immigrants are over twice as likely to receive a patent as highly educated natives, indicating skills in innovation and research and development.

Individual Maine cities, such as Portland, which assists immigrant businesses with commercial lending and networking, realize what immigrants have to offer. So do individual businesses, such as Hannaford Supermarkets, which has committed to hiring refugees in Portland.

GOVERNOR, ALLIES SLAM IMMIGRANTS

But while communities around Maine could benefit from the state’s committing itself to better incorporating the immigrant population into the community and the workforce, Gov. LePage and his allies have assumed an adversarial stance toward immigrants.

The governor has suggested that they present a public health risk, and both he and his health and human services commissioner have described asylum seekers – people fleeing persecution – as “illegal aliens” whose demands for General Assistance keep the government from helping elderly and disabled Mainers.

Dubbing General Assistance “illegal alien welfare,” a political organization touting LePage’s budget proposal – which includes a ban on the emergency aid for asylum seekers – orchestrated robo-calls to Maine voters, attacking Senate critics of the LePage plan.

Advocates for a more humane and common-sense approach to immigration have been pushing back early and often, but as long as the current chief executive is in the Blaine House, too many Mainers will be missing out on the cultural and economic benefits that these new arrivals can bring to our state.

filed under: