Talk about stagnation. A new state report predicts that fewer than 100 net jobs will be created in Maine through 2026.

A report from the state Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information says that although a significant number of jobs will be added in fields such as health care, food preparation and personal care, other fields such as sales, office administration and production will experience equally large job losses. The report also projects that by 2026, Maine will lose more than 30,000 workers in the 45-to-54 age range and add more than 30,000 in the 65-plus range.

The upshot? With the state’s unemployment rate at or near a historic low, more Mainers will be working well into what had been retirement years.

Overall, the report predicts net growth of only 94 jobs in Maine from 2016 to 2026, representing total job growth of 0.014 percent over the 10-year period with roughly nine jobs added to the state’s economy each year.

The report is the latest evidence that Maine is on a path to long-term economic stagnation, prompted in part by ongoing job and revenue declines among traditional industries such as forest products, and young Mainers leaving the state for better opportunities elsewhere.

“It is a call to action,” said Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve got to stop talking about it and do something about it.”

Connors said that while the report’s prediction of fewer than 100 net jobs created in Maine by 2026 is surprising and disappointing, the factors contributing to Maine’s economic stagnation are widely understood.

In July, another report issued jointly by the state chamber, the Maine Development Foundation and Educate Maine said the state’s workforce is shrinking because of an aging population and because too many workers lack the skills needed in the current economy. The report emphasized the need to increase the size and skill level of Maine’s workforce to keep businesses in the state and attract new companies. It called for expanding broadband access in the state, urged lawmakers to work to contain health care costs while expanding insurance access, and suggested the state develop a comprehensive economic strategy.

“All one has to do is to speak with most any industry and you’ll find that it is a very challenging issue,” Connors said. He noted that there are efforts underway to address the problem, such as MaineSpark, which seeks to increase the number of Mainers with specialized training to help them succeed in the workforce.

AGING POPULATION, MORE HEALTH CARE

By far, the greatest increase in Maine jobs between 2016 and 2026 will occur in the health care industry, according to the Department of Labor report. It predicts that Maine will add more than 3,800 jobs among health care practitioners and technical occupations, as well as about 2,000 jobs in health care support occupations.

The next-biggest increase will be in food preparation and food service, with about 1,600 jobs expected to be added, the report says. Personal care and service occupations are expected to add 1,300 jobs, while building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations are expected to add about 1,200 jobs.

The biggest job losses are projected to occur in office and administrative support occupations, according to the report. It predicts that more than 4,900 of those jobs will be lost in Maine from 2016 to 2026.

Sales and sales-related occupations also are expected to take a significant hit. The report projects that nearly 2,800 sales-related jobs will be lost in Maine over the 10-year period. The next-biggest decline will be among production-related occupations such as manufacturing, with a loss of about 2,100 jobs, it says.

Ed McKersie, founder and president of the Portland recruiting firm ProSearch Inc. and workforce development initiative LiveandWorkinMaine LLC, said the report reflects the reality that Maine’s economy is shifting from shrinking industries such as forest products to expanding ones such as health care.

“The news could be a lot worse,” he said. “The reason we’re at net-zero is because we’ve had a lot of growth in certain industries.”

McKersie said Mainers should take the report’s data as validation that the state needs to attract more companies and skilled workers through strategic initiatives.

“Let’s look at what industries will (have) job growth, and where Maine has some competitive advantages, and let’s focus,” he said.

The industry expected to add the most new jobs in Maine from 2016 to 2026 is health care and social assistance, with about 7,000 jobs projected to be created, according to the report.

Goods-producing industries are projected to lose about 3,700 jobs, along with a loss of 2,500 manufacturing jobs, it says. The paper manufacturing industry is expected to shed about 900 jobs.

The retail trade is expected to lose about 2,800 jobs, and government is projected to shed about 1,700 jobs, the report says.

James Myall, policy analyst at the Maine Center for Economic Policy, said stagnant population and job growth are problems for Maine because they limit the ability of businesses to grow and thrive, while making it more difficult to generate tax revenue for essential services that the state needs.

“It means the economy isn’t growing,” he said.

Myall said it’s important to remember that the Department of Labor’s grim projections about a lack of job growth in Maine are not set in stone.

Steps that Maine could take to boost population and job growth include making higher education in the state more affordable, increasing wages and expanding access to broadband internet service in rural areas, he said.

“These aren’t necessarily inevitable trends,” Myall said. “This is something that we as Mainers can do something about.”

‘LONGEVITY ECONOMY’

Maine’s population of working-age residents is expected to grow by more than 50,000 from 2016 to 2026, going from about 1.06 million to 1.1 million residents age 16 or older, the Department of Labor report says. The biggest increase will be in the 65-plus age range, with an increase of 113,000 residents, it says.

Nearly all other age ranges will see a decrease in residents, with the biggest loss (about 45,000) occurring in the 45-to-54 range, according to the report.

It projects that the demographics of Maine’s workforce also will skew older by 2026, with about 31,000 more jobs held by Mainers 65 and older. Meanwhile, about 34,000 fewer jobs will be held by residents age 45 to 54, and 4,200 fewer jobs held by residents age 55 to 64, it says.

The only younger demographic projected to pick up a significant number of jobs in Maine by 2026 is the 25-to-34 range, which is expected to add about 12,000 jobs, the report says.

Jess Maurer, executive director of the Maine Council on Aging, said more Mainers 65 and older are continuing to work because they are healthy and want to contribute, cannot afford retirement, or their employers have asked them to stay on for the benefit of the company.

“It’s important that people have started to dub this ‘the longevity economy,’ ” she said. “People are living longer, and they’re relatively healthy, and that’s a good thing.”

A growing number of Maine employers have been looking at the tight job market and encouraging their older employees to stick around longer, often making it an easier sell by offering things like part-time work and more flexible schedules, Maurer said.

“Employers are starting to think really differently about letting people walk out the door,” she said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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