Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine face population challenges

Markets Associated Press

New census figures show the three northernmost states in New England continue to see stagnant or declining populations, which experts predict will limit economic growth in the region.

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The challenges are slightly different among the states, with Vermont losing population, Maine growing but seeing more deaths than births and New Hampshire still growing, but at a much smaller rate than in years past.

"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," said Maine State Economist Amanda Rector.

The most recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show the population of Vermont dropped last year, by 0.2 percent, or 1,494 residents, to 624,594. Since 2010, Vermont has lost 1,147 residents.

Vermont has been coping with stagnant population growth for the last 16 years. In 2012, the state had its first population drop since the 1940s. Since then, some years have seen slight gains while others have had slight losses.

While the numbers remain small and could be reversed, the trend is troubling, said University of Vermont Associate Economics Professor Art Woolf.

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"The only reason this is happening is more people are leaving Vermont than are moving here," Woolf said. "We all who live here think Vermont's a wonderful place, but that's not the relevant group that are making the decisions (to leave)."

For years, Vermont officials have worked to stem out-migration, but so far nothing has worked.

Maine's population grew by 2,026 last year to just over 1.3 million. But there were 1,300 more deaths than births.

Maine, whose residents have the oldest median age in the nation, has seen enough in-migration to create a small net increase in population in the past year but more needs to be done to bring young people into the state, Rector said. In recent years, international migration has helped to offset more serious population declines, she said.

New Hampshire's population grew last year by 0.4 percent, or 4,684 residents, to a total just over 1.3 million. It had about 16,000 fewer people than Maine.

For many years, New Hampshire was the fastest-growing state in the northeast, largely due to people moving in from Massachusetts. But that domestic in-migration has slowed considerably during the past decade — in some recent years, more people moved out than moved in — and the state is not expected to return to the past pattern any time soon, according to the New Hampshire Institute for Public Policy Studies.

The most recent data show New Hampshire migration has turned positive again, but not by much.

Earlier this year, after reading the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies report "The Silver Tsunami," which documented the demographic changes facing New Hampshire, Republican state Rep. Neal Kurk asked leaders in the state to see what could be done.

"State officials need to understand the consequences of a future population that is no longer growing but is stable and aging," he said.

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Associated Press reporters David Sharp in Portland, Maine, and Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.