Where are Maine’s jobs? Counties, employment and moving trucks

As the rest of the country has finally gotten back to the same number of jobs it had before the recession, Maine’s less than halfway there.

But some parts of Maine are doing much, much better than others.

Check out this map from the Maine state government’s Center for Workforce Research and Information, showing county-level unemployment data from April 2014.

April 2014 unemployment rates

April 2014 unemployment rates

The range is from 4.5% to 10% because that’s the range from Cumberland County (shown in the darkest blue, sort of blue/purple) to Washington County (shown in brown).

Here’s a bar graph, with the counties arrayed by unemployment rate, from the same source.

April 2014 unemployment rates

April 2014 unemployment rates

By the way, the counties with lower unemployment are tending to see population growth, while those with higher unemployment are losing population.

There’s a fabulous interactive map of population changes showing every county in the United States you might want to check out.

It shows that Washington County, which now has the highest unemployment had a decline in population of 2.03% from 2010 to 2013.

In contrast, Cumberland County, with the lowest unemployment rate now, saw its population grow by 1.34% in that same three year period.

The link between jobs and population involves moving trucks, hearses and infant car seats.

Places declining in population have fewer births than deaths and fewer people moving in than moving out, certainly when compared to places where population is growing.

Migration, birth and death patterns relate to jobs.

A lot of it involves folks voting with their feet. People are less willing and able to start and raise their families in places with lagging economies. If they’re able to leave, they start packing.

Places with slow growth and population declines have more old people and fewer young ones.

People across the ideological spectrum have long recognized Maine’s demographic challenges, and its link to the jobs picture.

Not every place fits the pattern, but there most definitely is a broader dynamic.

Nine months ago Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick) held a summit where, according to reporter Christopher Cousins, economist Charles Colgan estimated that “in addition to keeping Mainers from moving away, the state must attract at least 3,000 new residents a year for the next 20 years in order to sustain the state’s workforce.”

“The rapid aging of Maine’s population has an impact on our economy, public health, caregivers, employers, and our workforce,” said Eves during the first round table meeting of more than 60 state experts, leaders and stakeholders at the Augusta Civic Center. [source]

The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) dubbed Maine’s population shifts, concentrated in some counties, “demographic winter” and counseled (you guessed it), tax cuts.

(Oddly enough, MHPC implicitly argued against population shifts as an economic issue when it claimed that discussions of employment trends since Gov. LePage was elected should control for population growth, a statistical method that would make the jobs picture look better in areas that grew slowly or lost population. Then again, they promoted the same method to try to make the case that expanding MaineCare wouldn’t save lives and keep Mainers healthier.)

Not surprisingly, people disagree about the best approach to keeping and attracting young people in Maine, but it has been a bipartisan concern for quite awhile, as has dealing with our aging population. Both matter for Maine’s economy.

As U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill put it, “All politics is local.” And so is the job climate.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.