The recent finding that Maine is experiencing a dramatic decline in workforce (“Bad news lurks in Maine’s unemployment rate,” March 26) is no surprise to economists. For years they have been recording the decline in population of Maine’s young people and the subsequent rise in the median age. Today, Maine has the oldest population in the country.

As with many economic events, this has far-reaching implications. Each young person who leaves Maine takes away the approximately $120,000 of tax-supported capital investment that the state and community made in their K-12 education. Other states will now get the benefit of that education.

Although Maine is actually subsidizing the future growth of other areas that are more attractive to young people, the real consequence of this emigration is yet to strike.

Young people start families, go on vacations, buy houses and cars, have children and move up the wage scale. Older people do not. Whether we like it or not, the millennials and Generation X will bear the tax burden and support the economy of our future, and every year there are fewer of them living in Maine.

Although population statistics change, the tax burden does not. No amount of pontificating about cutting wasteful spending or increasing the minimum wage is going to change the underlying economic reality of rising taxes and declining services.

This, however, is only half the problem. Wealth is created by the volume of economic exchanges that take place: buyers and sellers trading products and services for money. Without a vital, young population, our ability to maintain a healthy economy diminishes. Who will buy the houses, cars, groceries and services we have in our local economies when the young money-makers move to California or New York?

There is little government can do to staunch the flow of young people out of the state. The reasons for their departure are many and varied, and most of them have to do more with lifestyle issues than economic ones. The governor may be able to make us a business-friendly state, but he can’t shorten the winter or move Presque Isle closer to New York City.

We might, however, be able to import some people into our state. Imagine what would happen if Maine were to invite immigrants into the state, not by dribbles and drops but in the thousands.

Some of them would be doctors and lawyers, carpenters and plumbers, but most would be pretty much what we have in our own communities right now: people with a need to work for a living and buy goods and services from the local community. Some of them might be criminals, but the same could be said if we imported a bunch of New Yorkers, Californians or members of Congress.

They would require a fair amount of financial assistance when they first arrived here, but what business ever was created that did not require some up-front money? They might dress differently, speak a different language and worship a different god, but what American could honestly say that should make a difference here?

This has happened before. Starting in the 1900s, Maine was over run by immigrants who spoke a foreign language, worshiped a strange religion and who were believed at the time to be dirty, of low moral character and intelligence and owing allegiance to a foreign power.

They were, of course, the French Canadians. Owen Brewster, our 54th governor, was elected in 1925, with the help of Maine’s Klu Klux Klan, on the very specific promise to keep this “popish” element in its place and send them back to Canada on the first opportunity.

There was nothing special or cultural about the economic surge French Canadians provided — it was just the natural result of thousands of people purchasing thousands of products and services, providing thousands more products and services in return and paying taxes on it all.

Democracy does not guarantee good government, only a government that the citizenry deserves. If we are frightened, then we elect frightening leaders with frightened policies; if we are bold and fearless, so, too, will be our government. We have a rare opportunity here if we dare seize it.

In 1820, Maine became the first state to constitutionally guarantee citizenship to the thousands of forced immigrants from Africa living in America. We were so proud of that one act that we choose “I lead” as our state motto. You have to wonder what happened to us.

Alan Haley teaches and writes about economics for the Maine Department of Education. He lives in Skowhegan and can be contacted at: [email protected]