Maine’s economy a mixed bag

Maine’s economy a mixed bag

The 2014 edition of the Maine Economic Growth Council’s Measures of Growth Report has been released and it’s a mixed bag when looking in the rear view mirror at our economic activity.

This report plots movement on 27 indicators of economic and quality-of-life factors. The Growth Council compares data against previous years’ ratings as well as the state’s performance relative to the region and the nation. It also assigns gold stars and red flags to indicate where we ought to pay particular attention for best and worst practices.
Three gold stars were awarded for Maine’s sustainable forestry practices, air quality and water quality.
Five red flags were placed on research & development, fourth grade reading scores, healthcare costs, poverty, wellness and prevention efforts.

Under the heading of Economy, the following categories were deemed to have made progress against the benchmarks

  • fourth grade reading scores (up)
  • eighth grade math scores (up)
  • the cost of doing business (down)
  • the cost of energy (down)

It is interesting to note that while reading among fourth graders has improved, only 37% of Maine children at that age are testing as proficient. The low percentage earned it a red flag.

No significant movement since the last evaluation was made for

  • per capita income
  • employment
  • research and development
  • new business starts
  • productivity
  • higher degree attainment
  • state and local tax burden
  • on-the-job injuries and illnesses

We lost ground in measures of our transportation infrastructure, high speed internet subscribers and gross domestic product (GDP). The GDP of the region grew more than twice that of Maine’s; and the nation’s GDP was five times greater.

Under the heading of Community, the Council noted that affordable housing was making progress as was gender income disparity. Women’s earnings jumped from 78% to 83% of male wage earners in Maine while nationally, income equality lost ground by a half percent landing at 78.3%.

No progress was seen for health insurance coverage as 90% of Maine citizens were already covered in 2013. Wellness and prevention were static as measured by the persistent 64% percent of adults considered overweight or obese.

Maine lost ground in the percentage of people in poverty (14%) though we were better off than the nation which scored nearly 16% of our citizens as being impoverished.

Finally, under the heading of environment, Maine’s sustainable forest lands and air quality made progress while water quality remained unchanged but enviably high for our lakes, ponds, rivers and streams.

When these findings are set against a background of a rapidly aging population, low savings rates, low retirement security and out-migration of young people, Maine has lots of opportunity and incentive to get better. What does that really mean, however?

In education, parents continue to be the most important factor in reinforcing the lessons of the classroom. As those children mature and consider pursuing their education, access to our public universities and colleges must be available and affordable.

In health and wellness, the trends are persistent and moving in the wrong direction in terms of costs and quality of life. As consumers, we need to have more good information from which to make decisions about the cost and quality of our care. We also need to eat better and exercise more according to every study that has been published in the last decade.

Many of the indicators of economic activity, community and quality of life are the outcome of public policy. As citizens, we can talk with our elected officials to learn more and share ideas that may help move Maine in a positive and more prosperous direction.

For a broader view of the state of our nation, you also may want to view USA, Inc, a graphic analysis of America. One take-away from Measures of Growth and USA, Inc. is the importance of financial planning which includes being properly insured. Talking with your financial planner and insurance agent will help protect you through the ebb and flow of our economy.

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