Maine slipped on some key economic growth indicators over the past year, but recovery from the pandemic and resulting recession could present an opportunity for the state to improve, according to a new report from the Maine Economic Growth Council.

The Measures of Growth report lays out how Maine performs on 29 indicators compared with other U.S. states and New England neighbors. The report is produced by the nonpartisan council every year.

As the report was being compiled, Maine and the nation were dealing with consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed hundreds of people in the state, upended the economy and changed how people experience their everyday lives.

Despite the seismic impact of the pandemic, the report’s authors find reasons for optimism in its wake. The pandemic has laid bare inequities in living standards between people of color and white Mainers, and made clear the importance of early childhood education.

But it also highlighted the attraction the state’s quality of life has for out-of-state professionals and how new innovation and research can align with Maine’s traditional strengths.

“This report reflects the lessons and challenges of 2020 while also highlighting the opportunity of Maine’s innovative spirit, resilience and collaborative mindset,” said Council Chairman Steve Von Vogt in a statement.

In the face of disruption and distress, the report “is more important than ever in helping us understand Maine’s long term assets and challenges, so we prioritize and sustain the investments that can help us recover and return to prosperity.”

The report is important because it tracks indicators over time and includes aspects outside traditional economic analysis, said Yellow Light Breen, executive director of the Maine Development Foundation, the nonprofit that helps organize the report.

“It is not enough to grow jobs and wages for their own sake unless you can preserve the special attributes of community and environment that give Maine such a great quality of life in the first place,” Breen said in an interview. “These are big, complex issues to move the trend line on.”

The council decided to add two new indicators this year: racial/ethnic income equity and prekindergarten education.

The decision to include information on racial income was sparked by the national reckoning with race the country was facing this spring, Breen said. Maine is one of the whitest states in the country, but recent population growth is due almost entirely to immigrants who are people of color, he added. Income data from 2014-2018 shows income for people of color in Maine is on average 39 percent less than for white residents, according to the report. Addressing that inequality is critical to equity, the state’s economy and attracting new residents.

“That really shines an unavoidable statistical spotlight on what is happening and challenges all of us to struggle with what it means,” Breen said. Maine, for a long time “has had a mentality that because people of color have been a small percentage of Maine’s population and Maine’s economy we haven’t always thought about it as Maine’s problem; it clearly is.”

Pre-kindergarten education was included because access allows parents to enter or continue in the workforce and improves outcomes for children, Breen said.

“How are we supporting the workers of today, and how are we affecting the kids that are going to be in the workforce?” he said.

As the state starts recovering from the pandemic, it is an opportunity to recenter its priorities on strategies, such as Gov. Mills 10-year economic roadmap, that can prepare Maine for a future that ties new research, development and innovation to its traditional industries centered around the forest and ocean.

“It is the intersection of these global trends in terms of climate change, life sciences and artificial intelligence with a lot of Maine’s historic strengths,” Breen said. “That is why we are harking back to the 10-year economic strategy – even with tens of thousands of Mainers out of work let’s not lose those insights that are going to move us forward.”

The state made measurable progress in nine indicators – wages, gender income equity, total employment, prekindergarten education, state and local tax burden, broadband connectivity, safety, health insurance coverage and air quality.

Three of those categories were awarded “gold stars” for significant progress. Prekindergarten education was singled out because the state has 46 percent of 4-year-olds in pre-K, well above the national and New England averages, according to the report. Maine also ranks as one of the safest states in the U.S., with a crime rate 43 percent below the national average. The state’s air quality is also better than other Northeastern states.

But Maine slid against benchmark in 14 areas, including poverty, gross domestic product, international exports, entrepreneurship, postsecondary degree attainment and occupational credentials, cost of energy, transportation infrastructure, housing affordability and wellness and prevention.

Nine categories were given “red flags” indicating very low national standing or an established trend toward significant decline, including racial/ethnic income equity.

The state’s workforce declined by 2,900 and its value added per worker is among the lowest in the country. Maine’s research and development expenditure in 2017 was less than 1 percent, 46th in the country. The cost of doing business is the seventh highest in the country, more expensive than Rhode Island, New Hampshire or Connecticut. The state’s eighth-grade math scores in 2019 were 34 percent, the same level as in 2007 and down from six years ago.


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