Young adults just starting out in life have a lot of big decisions to make, and one of the biggest is where to live. Maine is No. 8 on the list of the top 10 worst states for people ages 20 to 24, according to a new report from the finance website MoneyRates. Housing is expensive and scarce, broadband access is spotty and there just aren’t enough other young people to hang out with. These are major challenges, but the good news is that the solutions are in front of us — if we’re willing to put them into action.

Only about 5 percent of Maine residents are in the 20-to-24-year-old age bracket (the national average is 7.7 percent) — and it’s no surprise that affordable housing is one of the barriers. They’re squeezed by the state’s low rental vacancy rate — 4.4 percent last year, compared to a national average of 7.1 percent, according to U.S. Census figures. And rental costs are high relative to wages, the National Low Income Housing Coalition has found. To make the rent on a two-bedroom apartment in most parts of Maine, a renter needs a full-time job at $17.04 an hour – a wage far above average renter pay ($10.36 an hour), let alone the state minimum ($7.50).

This isn’t just a Portland problem, either — from Kittery to Fort Kent, there’s nowhere in Maine that a 40-hour-a-week minimum-wage worker can afford even a one-bedroom apartment.

We’ve mentioned the need to take a regional approach to easing the shortage of reasonably priced places to live, including flexible regulations with a focus on cooperation with other organizations and development on infill lots.

Raising the minimum wage is also critical to attracting younger workers, who, despite the economic recovery, are still facing stagnant wages. The base-pay boost stands to benefit not only minimum-wage earners, but also people who make more than minimum but not enough to live on. There will be a ripple effect throughout the pay scale.

Maine’s low MoneyRates ranking should also draw attention to our broadband shortcomings: That 80 percent of households here are considered “unserved” by high-speed internet service is hardly a draw for digital natives. Here’s where we could take a lesson from the best state for millennials, according to MoneyRates’ analysis of social and economic criteria — North Dakota, where nearly 10 percent of residents are in the 20 to 24 age group.


Like North Dakota, Maine is cold and rural. Unlike North Dakota, Maine doesn’t have the stores of oil that have drawn thousands of young people to the Great Plains state and provided many of them with work.

But while natural resources booms come and go, internet providers have made a more lasting investment in North Dakota’s business infrastructure: The state has the highest percentage of people who have fiber-optic lines straight to their homes and businesses.

By applying for and getting federal grants aimed at improving connectivity in sparsely populated areas, the rural cooperatives and small telecoms that serve most of the state have provided their customers with an ultra-fast and reliable way to connect to the internet. This is the kind of upgrade that could bring not just new residents, but also new businesses to parts of Maine that have been struggling.

The MoneyRates ranking isn’t an in-depth study. And it didn’t reveal anything that we didn’t know already. But it should be a spur for policy leaders to continue and escalate efforts to attract young adults to Maine and keep them here — that’s the way to revitalize the economy and make our state a better place to live for people of all ages.

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