My last post dealt with the issue of our population problem as well as the demographic gap in Maine. Conveniently, we had someone who knew a fair amount that come in to talk to us about this very issue.
On Thursday this past week, we had a rather important guest visit our Maine Government class. The former Attorney General for the State, current “51st” attorney general, lecturer at Columbia and Harvard Law Schools, and all around good-guy James Tierney came to talk about state politics, economics, and pretty much all things Maine. After talking politics and the state of Augusta for a bit, we moved into questions from the class, most of which were directed toward our current demographic trends, Maine business, and what the former meant for the latter. If I had expected someone to sugarcoat the issues at hand, that was certainly not what I got.
Tierney told us straight. “Maine is in trouble,” he said. And he’s right. Maine is one of the few states, if not the only one, who’s populating declined over the past year. Not whose growth rate has decreased, but has had an actual net decline in population. Unsurprisingly, this is not a good thing. We’re also the oldest state in the nation, which brings difficulty in inspiring innovation, filling the depleting labor force, and securing outside money in the forms of investment and jobs from businesses and employers from out of state or country.
Perhaps the largest problem is this demographic gap that has started to take shape here in our state. Many of our best and brightest either leave for college or leave for the better employment options that exist all points south of our border. The mass exodus of our youth causes enormous problems for the next generation of Maine residents, specifically from an economic perspective. The issue in the future, perhaps, is not an issue of unemployment, but rather of one in which there is not enough people to fill the jobs. This is, arguably, more frightening.
But what is the answer? I love my state, and wish that many of my age didn’t wish to leave it. However, my career path will, in all likelihood, lead me out of the country, let alone Maine. This makes my complaints borderline hypocritical, yet not without some truth. Is there some way for politicos to incentivize our youth to stay in Maine and truly make it, as some signs say, “open for business?” Is this an internal problem, or one that is the result of an unfortunate confluence of external events? Regardless of the cause, what is the answer?
Tierney gave his opinion, which is simple, yet effective. Encourage immigration and embrace immigrants who choose to make Maine home. His evidence is that of Lewiston, which has seen an influx of Somali immigrants fleeing the turmoil in the horn of Africa, and, to an extent, has embraced them. Lewiston has started to buck the Maine trend of declining economic activity and stagnation, as well as the migration of youth to the south. These immigrants bring something new and have established themselves as a community within the larger one, and contribute to the larger community in a beneficial way. However, Tierney cautioned, this can be improved. He brought up the example of Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the city almost literally begged for immigrants to come to a city that would have been at home in Maine: cold, old, and white. As a result, Minneapolis is thriving again, and is a center of commerce and trade in the northern Midwest. If we could match the attitude that Minneapolis had, we might be able to reverse the falling line of our economy and population, and potentially fix the demographic issue that we face.
I liked Tierney. Most Mainers, when told that the situation is bleak and a result of our practices, would likely grow more hostile to the speakers next words. However, he’s right. His ideas face our problems head on and strive to fix them, something that all Mainer’s can appreciate as an attitude fitting of Maine’s peoples. Personally, I believe that the future of Maine lies in its policy and attitude toward immigration, and the inability to attract different and diverse peoples will likely only exacerbate the current problems to a point where it will be even more difficult than it is now to alleviate. To be open to immigrants will truly make Maine “open for business.”