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Friday, June 27, 2014

Maine's aging population anticipates caregivers while the average age of a professional nurse is over 50 years old

When Maine's Governor Paul LePage overrode the intentions of the states legislature by denying the expansion of Federal Medicaid assistance for qualifying beneficiaries, his short sighted political action wasn't made in the best interest of Maine's shrinking labor force.  Meanwhile, while Maine's population ages, the caregivers are also growing older at faster rate.

MaineBiz reports:

Maine's aging population contributes to 'barely growing' workforce

Maine's population continues to age, new U.S. Census data confirmed this week, and local economists said that will continue to slow the state's overall economic growth.

The Bangor Daily News reported that Maine's median age was 43.9 years in 2013, the highest median age in the country, according to the new U.S. Census data. The trend didn't surprise economists contacted by the newspaper, who said it explains "why Maine is experiencing slow growth in [gross domestic product], personal income, employment and [other] measures."

"Our workforce is barely growing," Glenn Mills, the state Department of Labor's chief economist, told the BDN, "and the challenges to growth will increase in the years ahead unless we are able to entice more young people to move to the state."

The newspaper noted that populations of people between the ages of 45 and 64 grew by more than 90% in every Maine county from 2010 to 2013, while populations of people between ages 18 and 24 decreased in six counties over the same period.

Moreover, while the labor force declines, the need for health care workers is increasing while the population ages:

Report warns of serious health care worker shortage

A report released Tuesday by the Maine Department of Labor concludes that the state could face a serious shortage of health care professionals in dentistry and psychology in the coming decades due to an aging workforce in those sectors.

The 2014 Health Occupations report, completed by the DOL's Center for Workforce Research and Information, states that two-third of practitioners in dentistry and psychology are more than 50 years old and are likely to retire in the next two decades. It also says nearly half of the state's pharmacists, nurse practitioners and licensed practical nurses are more than 50.

"Over the coming decade, nearly one out of five currently working in the health workforce may need to be replaced, and in some occupations — optometry, dietetics and nutrition, psychology, dentistry — approximately one out of three," according to the report's executive summary. "Overall, job opportunities due to replacement needs are expected to exceed those resulting from growth."

The report identifies regional disparities in terms of residents' access to services and health workers, with Cumberland County having 50% more health workers per thousand residents than the state average and Kennebec County 20% more. Rural counties such as Franklin, Oxford and Washington were singled out as having 20% to 50% fewer health workers per population.

"Maine faces a number of challenges on this front," the report's executive summary states. "According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, 41% of the state's population lives in rural areas that have lower incomes, higher rates of poverty and unemployment and lower levels of educational attainment. Recruiting and retaining providers in these regions is often challenging."

The report projects that jobs for healthcare practitioners and support staff are projected to grow a combined 17% from 2010 to 2020, which is higher than for all other major occupational groups and well above the 6% increase expected for all occupations.

The health sector in Maine represents nearly 106,000 jobs and $4.4 billion in annual payroll, making it the largest segment of the state's economy in terms of employment and wages, according to the report.

Not reported in the caregiver data is the average age of a Maine nurse is now between 47- 50 years old. In other words, even nurses will eventually require caregivers!

Attracting and retaining a young workforce would certainly be helped if Governor LePage followed the intentions of the people who voted, through their legislators, to expand Medicaid coverage under the Federal Health Care Reform Law.

As Maine's unemployment rate appears to decline, the number of people who abandoned the state to find jobs in other states aren't measured in the data. Maine's unemployment rate doesn't measure the number of jobs available because of the lack of qualified applicants.  

Accepting Federal funds to cover qualified Medicaid beneficiaries, especially to cover young working people, would bring millions of federal dollars into Maine and support a stable workforce. It's the right thing to do! Think of Federal Medicaid funds as a defense contract, because there is no difference in the source of the funds. Maine would never refuse a defense contract. Likewise, Maine should accept the Federal funds to expand Medicaid and, in so doing, follow the will of the people who support this expansion.

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