Maine is facing a shortage of 3,200 registered nurses by 2025, according to a study released last week by nursing organizations, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the University of Maine System.

Research and industry anecdotes have found similar shortages in other industries: teaching, construction, manufacturing, and hospitality, to name a few.

Each shortage has industry-specific factors, of course. Education, particularly in science and math, faces competition from related fields, for instance, while low pay for construction workers and home-health aides has people looking for work in other regions and industries, respectively.

But what they all have in common is a supply problem — there are simply not enough working-age Mainers to fill all the slots in all the industries that contribute to the state economy. It is a steadily growing problem that is only going to get worse, and no amount of attention is too much.

The nursing shortage is emblematic of the larger trouble. The demand for health care is increasing as Maine’s population ages, with the rise of chronic illness a particularly demanding development.

Nurses, too, are growing older — a third are over 55, with many more over 45. They’ll be retiring soon, and to replace them at the level necessary, Maine must increase the number of new nurses by 20 percent each year, the study said.


It is the same in a number of industries. In a 2016 survey by Mainebiz, three-fourths of businesses reported having trouble finding suitable applicants for open positions.

What is happening is simple and well documented. As baby boomers age out of the workforce, there are not enough young Mainers to replace them.

According to a report from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation, the state’s workforce grew by 40 percent from 1980 to 2010, largely because of an influx of women. Now, it is expected to decline, unless, like Maine’s population as a whole, more of the state’s young people stay here through there working years and the state attracts more new people, including immigrants. That is just the math when it comes to one of the country’s oldest and least diverse states.

Some policymakers are working to reverse the trend. Programs to help pay off student loans are being considered, as are initiatives that increase training opportunities in fields facing shortages. Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, has introduced a bill that would allow nursing licenses to be used across state lines, hoping to attract more workers from out of state. Maine must remain open and inviting for immigrants, who will make up much of the country’s workforce growth in the coming decades.

All of these efforts, large and small, are necessary. Maine is facing a severe demographic challenge that will not go away easily, and it must be factored into just about every decision legislators make.

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