“We cannot have economic growth without demographic growth, and we’re facing a situation where more and more businesses aren’t going to be able to fill jobs because there aren’t enough workers, let alone skilled workers,” Maine’s state economist, Amanda Rector, told the Associated Press in an article published Dec. 28.

Many factors negatively affect Maine’s economy, but slow population growth doesn’t have to be one of them, and it’s not indicative of per-capita income, the most important measure of a healthy economy.

Rather than attempting to increase population through higher birth rates or immigration (acknowledging that refugees and domestic in-migrants have brought much to our communities worth celebrating), we should focus on improving job opportunities for the Mainers we already have, including the 28,000 unemployed.

For starters, we can do better at educating our youth. Of the 86 percent of students who graduate from high school, only 60 percent go to college, and only 60 percent of Maine college students earn degrees within six years. Many of those who do move away from Maine with degrees depart our state because of a lack of professional job opportunities.

Poor health also makes many people’s incomes precarious. Nearly 300 Maine residents die each year from opioid overdoses, and up to 30,000 Mainers want drug treatment but aren’t getting it. A quarter of Mainers have a disability, leaving many of them out of the mainstream economy.

Finally, in 2010 there were 5,130 unintended births to Maine women (655 of them to teens). Childbearing at a time that isn’t ideal or even adequate can disrupt mothers’ employment prospects and limit the opportunities of their children as well.

Addressing health and education and ensuring inclusion of all Mainers into the state’s economy would go far further in increasing per-capita income than simply increasing the number of people living here.

Marian Starkey

director of communications, Population Connection

Falmouth resident

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