The One Minute Geographer: Maine’s Population Problem

Jim Fonseca
4 min readJan 3, 2022
Portland Head Lighthouse, photo by Keith Luke @ lukephotography on unsplash.com

We talked about the size of Maine in terms of area, but not too much yet about its population. Maine 2020’s population of 1,360,000 is small but not tiny — it ranks 42nd, so eight states have fewer people. Yet, to give you an idea of that size, consider that a lot of medium-sized metropolitan areas also have about that many people — places like Memphis TN, Richmond VA and Raleigh NC.

Let’s talk demography. Maine struggles to maintain its population. I know I said in the last post that based on 2021 Census estimates, Maine is getting a boost in domestic migration into the state, likely due to people fleeing Covid. We don’t know how long that will continue and how many of these recent migrants from other states will stay, but the thing is, Maine needs that boost. Maine had one of the slowest population growth rates since 2010 — only 2.6% compared to the national rate of 7.4%. Unless the recent growth of in-migration continues, Maine could well join the growing list of states losing people. West Virginia, Mississippi and Illinois lost population between 2010 and 2020. Connecticut only grew by a fraction.

Maine has the oldest median age of all 50 states (2019 data). Half of Maine’s residents are over 45 and half under. Compare that to the youngest state, Utah, where the median age is 31. It’s also no surprise that with that average age, Maine has one of the lowest birthrates. Interestingly, all six New England states rank among the bottom seven in birth rate. (The only other state in there is Oregon.)

We all read regularly about the drop in the US birthrate. But consider two statistics that brings this home, at least to me. Maine was one of TWENTY-FIVE states where deaths exceeded births from 2020 to 2021. Then consider that between 2010 and 2020 MORE THAN HALF of the counties in the US (1,660 of 3,142 ~ 53%) lost population from 2010 to 2020. This number is unprecedented and is something that we’ve never seen before in American history. Nor have we ever seen three states lose population over 10 years.

Maine by Grace Fitts @gracefitts on unspash.com

When deaths exceed births, the only way a state (or a county) can grow is by attracting…

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Jim Fonseca

Geography professor (retired) writes The One Minute Geographer featuring This Fragile Earth. Top writer in Transportation and, in past months, Travel.