PORTLAND — The U.S. Census Bureau released new population statistics Wednesday, and it was either good news or bad news for Maine depending on how you read the numbers.

Maine was one of three states that lost population for the 15-month period between April 1, 2010, and July 1 of this year, with a decline of 173 people, according to a statement released by the Census Bureau. Rhode Island and Michigan also lost population for the same 15-month period.

But the Census Bureau also released statistics showing Maine gained 809 people for the 12-month period from July 1, 2010, to July 1, 2011.

That marks Maine’s first 12-month population increase in three years, said Joel Johnson, an economist with the State Planning Office. The state lost 919 people from July 2008 to July 2009, and an additional 2,023 people the following year, he said.

“It would be scary if we started stringing together three, four or five years of losses in population,” he said. “But still, we only gained 809 people. And it could be different next year.”

Maine had 1,328,188 people on July 1.

Whether the year-to-year estimates show a small gain or a small loss, the overriding message is that Maine’s population is stagnant, said Charles Colgan of the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie Institute of Public Service.

With the nation’s highest median age, 47.2 years, Maine’s natural population growth is small, he said. And with the economy still struggling, there’s not much to draw people to the state.

The economy and the housing market crash have reduced the number of people moving around the country in recent years, he said, and Maine has nothing to distinguish itself economically from other places.

“There are a lot of things keeping people from moving and nothing in particular to bring them to Maine,” he said.

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