Are Millennials the Answer to Maine’s Declining Labor Force?


Lazy, living at home and selfish—millennials frequently get a bad reputation. The first digital natives, viewed as overly social and with different life priorities, are the future of the U.S. and a flourishing and competitive economy. Across the country, the pending reality of an aging population will impact some states more than others. Maine, in particular, should be wary of scaring off young workers and their potential to help its economy grow.

In recent years, millennials workers have shown an affinity for entrepreneurship. A BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneurs Report revealed that on average, millennials are more likely to launch new businesses than their baby boomer predecessors. Young adults are embracing entrepreneurial endeavors as they provide flexible opportunities to the newest members of the workforce.

Joe Graph 4Source: BNP Paribas

Even without considering the entrepreneurial spirit of the next generation, Maine still requires sufficient labor to replenish an aging and retiring workforce. Maine ranks as the oldest state in the U.S., with a median age of 44 years old. Throughout Maine, no county had seen a decline in median age prior to 2014. With a continually aging population, Maine faces an uncertain economic future.

The key to turning around Maine’s economy potentially lies with young adults. This spring, The Pew Research Center reported that millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the most populous living generation. That means that, despite being the most numerous generation currently, Maine’s rising median age evinces a disproportionate shortage of young workers. According to a University of Maine study, only 259,000 young adults will join the workforce to replace a retiring 370,000 baby boomers, leaving Maine with an 111,000 person gap to fill.

In order to spur prosperity in Maine, a significant growth in the workforce needs to occur. Maine is a beautiful state. It has the potential to attract Millennials with nearly unparalleled recreational activities, inviting communities and opportunities for entrepreneurial endeavors. The surest way to keep and attract both seasoned and young labor, though, is to fairly incentivize workers to come to Maine. The fairest incentive is through broad-based, pro-growth tax reform that doesn’t pick winners and losers, but rather gives each individual an even playing field.

Maine must resist the trapping temptation of centrally-planned economic development. Other Northeast states, like New York and Rhode Island, have recently begun initiatives to grow their economies by picking winners and losers, offering lavish tax incentives to businesses that operate in their preferred industries. However, these types of economic development initiatives fail to properly incentivize the entire workforce, and incidentally punish industries that would otherwise thrive in a less suffocating regulatory or tax environment.

The good news is that millennial workers might very well be attracted to economic environments that are less stifled by government interference and oversight. Recent surveys of the age group indicate they have a significant mistrust of government, so the logic follows that a government-run program might be less enticing than a simple, fair playing field.

Further, despite seemingly overt sympathies for socialist policies, only 32 percent of millennials favor a an economy managed by the government. Perhaps more importantly, when the cost of government programs is articulated through the honest truth, that government spending means higher taxes, millennial support for big government dissipates. There is hope in appealing to young workers and entrepreneurs through pro-growth policies.

Without real tax and spending reform, keeping and attracting young workers to Maine will continue to be a challenge. An aging population without young adults to replace retiring Baby Boomers leads to economic dismay. In order for Maine’s economy to grow, prosper and become healthy, Maine needs to attract and retain millennials.