David Migneault, of Garland (center) laughed as he plays Rummikub with his wife, Peggy, (right) and friend Alden Bent,
of DoverFoxcroft downstairs in Central Hall in DoverFoxcroft, Maine.
spouses they left behind, elderly men and women who now live alone in the oldest county in
the country’s oldest state.
“It hasn’t been easy for them,” Marshall said, sitting with his wife, Jane, in an 18th-century
home beside the frozen Piscataquis River.
The couple are active at an age when many of their peers have slowed almost to a stop. Ted
Marshall, an Army veteran whose only time “away” was during the Korean War, still cleans
carpets for a living and even plows snow from his neighbors’ driveways for free.
But across the state, the rapid aging of Maine’s population — a trend known by some as the
“silver tsunami” — has reached a crucial tipping point, many say. As baby boomers head into
retirement, and many young people move away in search of opportunity, Maine is one of
only two states, along with West Virginia, where deaths have begun to outnumber births.
That gulf is reshaping life here in myriad ways, from shrinking the workforce to intensifying
the demand for elderly services, and it will only widen in the coming years, demographers
Already, Maine has more residents 65 and older than 18 and younger. By 2
2/11/2019 In Maine deaths outnumber births, and the state is grappling with what to do
“I don’t think there will be a leveling-off point soon,” said Ken Johnson, a demographer at
the University of New Hampshire who studies population trends.
Across the state, municipalities are struggling to fill jobs from a static labor pool, competing
for police officers, firefighters, and even snowplow drivers. Health care providers are
scrambling to find workers, and local taxes are rising, some of them to finance programs for
“We’re definitely under the gun,” said Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine
Council on Aging. “It’s a mixed bag, because there’s obviously really good news in that we’re
living longer than ever. But we haven’t done a good job of planning for what’s next.”
That appears to be changing in Piscataquis County, where the median age of 51.6 years in
2017 topped that of any other county in Maine, which had the oldest median age in the
In the Piscataquis County seat of Dover-Foxcroft, the issue is being confronted head-on,
making the former mill town of 4,200 people a laboratory for rural, aging areas across the
country that will face similar problems in the years ahead, especially in small-town New
“We are at the demographic frontier,” said Dr. Lesley Fernow, a retired internist who is a
local leader on aging issues. “We’re being forced to embrace all of this because we don’t have
A town survey in 2015 found that transportation is the most important concern for older
people, followed by food needs, isolation, and access to cellphone and Internet service.
Transportation has been studied repeatedly here to help older people get around — to
doctor’s appointments, the market, and community activities. In addition, planning is
underway to create a community center where older people who need extra care can find
services, social stimulation, and a few hours away from home to provide a break for their
The town’s Central Hall, built in 1883, has been transformed into an all-generations
gathering spot called the Commons. Its offerings include quilting, trauma workshops, tai chi,
wellness classes, Wednesday lunches, and monthly contra dances where up to 100 people,
from toddlers to those in their 90s, stomp around the rebuilt floor.
“There’s a heart and a healing in the generations being together and teaching each other,”
said Tara Smith, a 43-year-old mother of two who is executive director of the Commons. “I
feel my whole social life is more rounded than it’s ever been. Some of my best friends are 20
to 30 years older than me.”
Overall, Maine’s median age is nearly seven years older than the national figure of 38.0.
Looked at another way, the difference between the median age in the United States and in
Piscataquis County, a remote expanse the size of Connecticut with just 17,000 people, is the
gap between a newborn and a high school freshman.
Joan Shapleigh, 81, attends quilting classes as well as community meals, where older people
predominate. She lives alone in a renovated former mill — four tall windows in her living
room look out on the river, a white New England church, and a large red wooden barn.
Shapleigh said she feels fortunate that two of her children remain in a town that many others
have left. She sees the effects on other seniors who do not have family close by, who live in
old Maine homes that are big on space but short on company.
“There is isolation and depression and illnesses that aren’t caught in time,” Shapleigh said.
Exacerbating their struggles is the area’s strapped economy. Piscataquis County has a
median household income of $36,938, compared with $50,826 for the state. Jobs are hard to
come by, and nearly a third of the county's children live in poverty.
“I know a lot of people who have a difficult time,” Shapleigh said.
By 2026, Piscataquis County is projected to lose 11 percent of its 2016 population, by far the
largest drop of any county in the state. While the southern counties of York and Cumberland,
which includes Portland, are expected to grow by 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively,
Maine’s overall population is projected to climb less than 1 percent.
Vermont and New Hampshire also are aging significantly, prompting Vermont to offer as
much as $10,000 for 100 people to move there this year and work remotely. The three states
in northern New England lead the nation in the percentage of non-Hispanic white residents,
a group whose birth rate lags far behind that of Hispanics, the country’s largest ethnic
minority and a driver of population growth.
And while Maine’s unemployment rate hovers near record lows, the shrinking pool of
younger labor is pushing many of the state’s 522 cities and towns to brainstorm for ways to
In Augusta, the state capital, some waste-disposal workers are being offered city-paid
training — several thousand dollars’ worth for a commercial truck-driving license — to
“We just can’t recruit seasonal drivers,” said Raphael St. Pierre, the assistant city manager.
For the last two winters, an informational technology administrator paid $75,000 by the city
has agreed to help plow snow on the side for additional pay.
The state Department of Transportation has 38 openings for full-time drivers, according to
state Senator David Miramant, a Democrat from Camden who has filed a bill to raise their
pay, which starts at $14.37 an hour.
“That used to look pretty good,” Miramant said. But not anymore, when deep-pocketed
competitors such as Amazon and UPS are willing to pay much more for the same jobs.
In Augusta, firefighter-paramedics have received 30 percent raises over two years; police
supervisors, 25 percent; and police officers, 20 percent, in an aggressive bid to retain and
recruit them. That increase in spending equates to a 3 percent rise in property taxes,
according to City Manager William Bridgeo.
Applications for city vacancies has plummeted.
“In the past, we would receive a couple of hundred applications for a full-time job opening.
Family and friend referrals would roll in. Now, we are lucky to get 10,” said Barbara Gabri,
the city’s human resources director. “Recently, we advertised a management position and
received just a handful of resumes, three of which did not meet the essential qualifications.”
Library hours have been scaled back, and the waiting list at the city-run day-care center is
growing because of a staff shortage.
“We’ve got to bring in more young people. We can’t grow them,” Bridgeo said. “We also have
to invite immigrants in. We have to become a far more welcoming society in Maine. I think
that’s part of the solution.”
In Dover-Foxcroft, 75 miles to the north, work is well under way to address — if not solve —
the many needs of its aging population. It’s largely uncharted territory, but a vigorous
discussion has begun.
Ted Marshall believes he has part of the answer. For him, it’s staying busy.
“If I was spending time sitting in that chair, I probably wouldn’t be here,” Marshall said,
nodding toward a comfortable corner of the house. “For me, that’s the bottom line.”
They could import moar brown people
They could import moar brown people
I think they tried under Obama. They ended up with a bunch of Somali gangs in their cities!
........................................................................time is the master
They could import moar brown people
or islamics - Maine could be the new training ground