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Where have all of Maine's workers gone? Researchers say that many of them have retired

A grocery store in Maine seen early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nick Woodward
Maine Public
A grocery store in Maine seen early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers say that Maine's persistent labor shortage is largely the result of an aging population — and not because of workers staying out of the labor market.

In a recent report, the Maine Center for Workforce Research and Information said that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic initially led to a huge drop in workforce participation, and likely led more older people to retire.

The center's director, Mark McInerney, said at this point, two years later, the vast majority of younger people are at work. But a growing portion of Maine's population is over 55, when many start to retire and leave the workforce.

"It's really because more people are moving into those higher age ranges over time, and not that we're seeing lower participation among younger people, for example," McInerney said.

McInerney said Maine's older population is also the biggest reason that the state has one of the highest percentages of people with disabilities, and that can create additional barriers.

He is encouraged that more younger people have moved to Maine in recent years, which has helped to somewhat offset the aging population.