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This edition of Island Indicators underscores the opportunities and challenges facing Maine’s 15 year-round island communities.
The 2006 Island Indicators report was the first analysis of available demographic, economic and social data for these communities. The updated 2008 Island Indicators report presented a snapshot of the realities of island communities two years later. The 2010–11 edition included the latest data and reflected changes over time in order to illustrate the current wellbeing of these communities and to identify trends.
In this update, we expand our focus beyond our traditional data sources, which have been largely government data sets. Some of this new material is anecdotal and much has been taken from community conversations and informal surveys. This new information is intended to reveal the trends in these small communities that are often easily overlooked by larger data gathering efforts like the U.S. Census.
With this update, we hope to provide island community members and their advocates with the information and analysis necessary to keep Maine’s island communities thriving.
COMMUNITY AND CIVIC TRENDS
- Population – Since 1990, island populations overall have increased 5.7% as compared to 8.2% in the state as a whole. Most of the island population increase has been in Casco Bay. Penobscot Bay saw a smaller increase while the Downeast islands have lost population.
- Age – The median age on islands remains significantly higher than the state as a whole. This continuing trend may have implications for the strength of island-based workforces, schools, and community diversity.
- Educational Attainment - More islanders (93%) have attained a high-school diploma or college degree than residents of the state as a whole (91%).
- School Enrollment - Island student enrollment has declined 18% since 2002. Schools are a central component of a year-round island community. Given the small size of many island schools, slight enrollment declines can be cause for concern.
- School Funding – In 2012–13, islands funded 83% of their school budgets locally. State wide, communities funded 46% of their school budgets locally.
- Library Usage – Per-capita circulation continues to be higher on islands than in the state as a whole, reflecting a community priority to maintain and enhance library catalogues and offerings.
- Voter Turnout – In 2014, island voter turnout averaged 66%. The statewide average was 64%. This is in keeping with a high rate of civic engagement and volunteerism in island schools, local governments, and island-based nonprofit organizations.
- Income – The 2013 estimated median household income is slightly higher on the islands ($53,318) than in the state as a whole ($48,453). However, four islands had estimated median incomes lower than $50,000.
Lobstering and Fishing – Maine’s coastal economies are heavily dependent on fisheries—particularly lobster. According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, in 2014 lobster accounted for 78.1% ($457 million) of the total value of Maine’s fisheries ($585 million). That’s up from 68.5% in 2013.
- Housing – The islands have fewer year-round rental housing units than the state as a whole and as a result, the islands have very high seasonal housing vacancy. 62% of the total housing stock on the islands is seasonal, compared to 16% for the state as a whole. There are 1.38 housing units per person on the islands—many of which are owned and occupied by seasonal residents— compared to .54 units per person in the state.
- Property Valuation – Island real estate continues to appreciate at a higher rate than the rest of the state. While the state as a whole lost 3% of its valuation between 2009 and 2014, the islands gained 1%. Higher property values can translate into heavier tax burdens for those living near the water. However, the increased valuation also drives down the mil rate in island communities, which can benefit those residents living on inland or other properties with lower assessed value.
- Electricity Rates – Electricity rates on islands continue to be significantly higher than on the mainland, with the exception of the Casco Bay islands, Cranberry Isles, and Islesboro. The national average electricity cost is 12 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). The New England average is 18 cents/kWh, the Maine average is 16 cents/kWh, and islands range from 16–70 cents/kWh. On Monhegan, the cost for electricity is more than four times the state average.
- Heating Fuel – Oil is used to heat 85% of island homes. A sample of comparable prices suggests heating oil is more expensive on islands.
- Ferry Transportation – Ferries are the lifelines for island communities and the associated costs affect the overall cost of island living. The round-trip costs of taking the ferry to the mainland for a family of four, including all possible discounts, ranges from $14 on Chebeague to $100 on Matinicus. This does not include parking or freight costs. It also does not account for the cost of travel time and the limitations of the ferry schedules.
COMMUNITY AND CIVIC TRENDS
Between 1990 and 2010, the total population of the islands has increased almost 6%, compared to an 8% increase in the state population as a whole. Most of the island population increase has been in Casco Bay. Penobscot Bay saw a smaller increase while the Downeast islands have lost population.
Population projections suggest that over the next decade, island populations in all three bays will decrease slightly from 2010 levels. Town population projections from the Maine Office of Policy and Management are calculated using the recent historical growth of each town’s share of its county’s projections, and county population projections.
From Maine OEP: “The projects use linear regression analysis to estimate a constant rate of growth for each town’s share of their county populations between 1990 and 2010 or 2000 and 2010, which historical time period produces the regression with the slop closest to zero. This growth rate is then extrapolated into the future, using county population projections to project the population for each town in 2015, 2020, 2025, and 2030”
Planning Decisions estimated 2020 populations for Peaks, Great Diamond, and Cliff Island based on projections for Portland and their percentages of Portland’s populations in 2010.
|Location||1990||2000||2010||1990–2010 Total Change||1990–2010 % Change||2020 Projected|
|State of Maine||1,227,928||1,274,923||1,328,361||1,331,607|
Source: 1990, 2000, 2010 Decennial US Census Projections: Maine Office of Policy and Management 2020 Population Projections and Planning Decisions estimates for Cliff, Great Diamond, and Peaks Island.
Among individual islands, Chebeague, Long Island, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, Matinicus, North Haven, Vinalhaven, Peaks, and Great Diamond all experienced an increase in population between 1990 and 2010, while the Cranberry Isles, Swan’s Island, Monhegan, Islesboro, and Cliff all experienced a decrease in population.
Over the past 20 years, island populations have fluctuated. In Casco Bay, all of the islands except Cliff have seen a population increase. Great Diamond Island experienced a population increase of 225%, likely due to a shift from a seasonal population to a more year-round population. Penobscot Bay has, overall, increased in population. For this region, Census data shows a spike in population in 2000 following by a slight decrease over the next 10 years. The notable exception was on Monhegan, with a loss of 21.6% of year-round residents over the 20-year period. Downeast is a bit more complicated. The Cranberry Isles decreased in population by 25.4% and Swan’s Island decreased by 4.6%. However, Frenchboro’s population increased by 38.6%.
Islands do not tend to conduct annual population surveys. For one thing, the definition of the year-round population differs from one island to another and island communities differ in how they define a “year-round” resident.
The U.S. Census counts the number of people residing in each household or location as of April 1 of the Census collection year. One of the limitations of this process is that people self-report their place of residence and the process may not include people who are off-island (such as students, vacationers, or people who winter off-island).
An informal survey of at least three community members from each island in April 2015 provided the island estimates used in the following graphics. While these estimates do not reflect a formal census process, they do provide a sense of the population of the islands as viewed by islanders.
|2010 U.S. Census||Spring 2014 Island Estimate||Percentage Difference|
|Isle Au Haut||73||45||-38.36%|
Source: 2010 U.S. Census; Island Institute Informal Survey, Spring 2015
Source: Island Institute Informal Survey, Spring 2015
Since 1990, the islands as a whole have seen a decrease in the population age 54 and younger and an increase in the population age 55 and older.
Compared to the State of Maine as a whole, the islands have larger percentages of older populations and lower percentages of younger populations. In particular, the islands have more residents between the ages of 55 and 84 (37.7% on islands and 28.2% in the state as a whole), and fewer residents age 18–45 (42.4% on islands and 49% in the state as a whole).
Median age is often used to understand the age of a population. Half of the population is older than the median, half of the population is younger. In 2010 the (weighted) average median of the islands was 49.0 years. This is significantly higher than the state median of 42.7. By comparison, the median age for the U.S. is 37.2 years.
More than a fifth (21%) of the total island population is older than 65 years, compared with just 16% for the state as a whole.
Approximately one-third of all island households have 1 or more people over the age of 65.
|Population over age 65||% Population over age 65||Households with 1 or more persons over age 65||% Households with 1 or more persons over age 65|
|Isle Au Haut||17||23.3%||13||31.0%|
Source: 2010 Decennial US Census
Source: 2010 Decennial US Census
A higher percentage of islanders have a college degree (43.5%) compared to the state as whole (27.9%).
Source: 2013 US Census American Community Survey 5 Year Estimate
Educational attainment examines the number of people in a community over the age of 25 who have obtained a high school diploma or higher and a bachelor’s degree or higher. The level of educational attainment is one indicator of the value placed on education within a community and is often related to changing demands for skills and knowledge within a local or regional workforce. A community’s educational attainment is also affected by the presence of retirees and other people “from away.”
Island School Enrollment
The local school is the heart of each island community; a functioning school is critical to island sustainability. Overall, student resident enrollment is down from 2002 levels in almost all of the schools (the two exceptions being Frenchboro and Matinicus). Given that most island schools are small, even slight declines in student population are cause for concern.
|K–5||6–8||9–12||2013 Total||2002 Total||2002–2013|
|Isle Au Haut||0||4||0||4||12||-8|
|Vinalhaven (MSAD 8)||73||38||68||179||215||-36|
|North Haven (RSU 7)||34||10||18||62||77||-15|
|Matinicus (RSU 65)*||1||2||0||3||1||2|
|Swan's Island (MSAD 76)||24||12||13||49||57||-8|
Source: Maine Department of Education
Resident enrollment is based on where students live. Attending student counts are based on where the students are educated. Comparing resident enrollment to attending enrollment finds that Islesboro has 25 off-island students attending school in 2013/2014.
Three islands (Islesboro, Vinalhaven, and North Haven) have island high schools. The Cranberry Isles, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut, Matinicus, Monhegan, and Swan’s Island all have middle schools. The Diamond Islands in Casco Bay have no school.
Like Peaks and Cliff Islands, the Diamond Islands are a part of the City of Portland and the Portland school system. All students on the Diamonds and middle and high school students from Peaks and Cliff commute, via ferry and bus, to Portland to attend school.
Students attending private school are not necessarily included in the resident enrollment numbers as private schools are not required to report.
Cliff, Frenchboro, Matinicus, Monhegan, and Isle au Haut all maintain multi-grade one-room schoolhouses. Islesford has a two-room multi-grade school.
Island School Funding
State school funding is based on property tax valuation. Because the islands have high property valuations, they generally receive less state aid for education. In 2012–13, the islands funded 82.8% of their school budgets locally (up from 78% in 2008–09). By comparison, mainland communities funded only 54% of their school budgets (up from 47% in 2008–09).
Even at a significantly greater cost per student than mainland schools, and despite significantly lower state funding, island communities have consistently voted to maintain their schools. This is one indication of the importance of viable public schools for these year-round communities.
Source: Maine Department of Education
Source: Maine Department of Education
The Maine Department of Education collects and publishes data for each school district related to public school operating costs, including a cost per pupil. The data below lists the 2012–13 Per Pupil Subsidizable Operating Expenditures—including Special Education and CTE (Vocational)—and excluding major capital outlay, debt service, transportation, and federal expenditures. This data was collected in April 2014 and covers the 2012–13 school year.
School funding is a complicated issue and this table provides only one view of school spending on the local level. Many school costs are mandated by state and federal regulation and fall beyond local community control.
Economy of scale is a critical factor in the overall cost-per-pupil. Smaller schools have some fixed operational costs that must be spread across a smaller group of students. Yet—with the exception of Peaks, Cliff, and the Diamonds, which are part of the Portland school system—each island is able to directly address many of the expenses in its school budget.
|Fiscal Year Subsidizable Pupils||Per Pupil Operating Costs|
|Portland Public Schools||4819.5||2113||$10,953.10||$11,045.41|
|Isle au Haut||4||1||$36,425.59||$6,730.46|
|Matinicus (MSAD 65)||3.5||1||$33,533.58||$9,299.80|
|North Haven (MSAD 07)||43.5||18||$21,349.69||$35,255.63|
|Vinalhaven (MSAD 08)||121||63.5||$10,955.10||$16,235.02|
|Swan's Island (MSAD 76)||48.5||8||$14,764.58||$9,290.14|
Island Library Usage
The per capita circulation of library materials is higher on the islands than in mainland libraries of similar size. Several island libraries are especially active in providing children’s programs.
|Per Capita Circulation||# Visits||# Kids Programs||# Youth Programs||# Adult Programs|
|Average among the 36 libraries with < 1,000 population||7||3,718||25||1||21|
|Chebeague Island Library||30||10,998||47||2||34|
|Long Island Community Library||21||4,014||140||9|
|North Haven Public Library||34||n/a||4||2|
|Cliff Island Library||n/a||n/a|
|Monhegan Memorial Library||22||3,443||9||8|
|Great Cranberry Library||17||1,695||3||6|
|Frenchboro Public Library||n/a||n/a|
|Swans Island Public Library||23||5,417||35||7||30|
Voter turnout is often used as an indicator for civic engagement. Maine tends to have relatively high voter turnout and the islands have higher voter turnout than the state as a whole.
|Registered Voters||Ballots cast in Nov 2012 Presidential Race||Turnout percentage||Registered Voters||Ballots cast in Nov 2014 Governor's Race||Turnout percentage|
Note: Election results for Peaks, Cliff, and Great Diamond are inseparable from other Portland results.
Median household income is a standard measure of community economic well-being. A community’s median household income represents the income of the family in the economic middle: 50% of households have an income higher than the community median income; 50% have an income lower than the median.
The 2006 Island Indicators report found the median income on eight of 14 of the islands to be below the state median. The 2008 report found about half of Maine’s 15 year-round island communities to have median incomes below the state median.
In 2009, four island communities had estimated median incomes below the median for the state of Maine as a whole ($46,309). The 2009 state median is itself 10% lower than the national median of $51,287. This indicates a slight increase in the median income for the year-round islands.
In 2013, the estimated average median household income is slightly higher on the islands as a whole ($53,318) than in the state as a whole ($48,453). However, there are still four islands (Long, Isle au Haut, Monhegan, and Peaks) with estimated median incomes lower than that of the state as a whole.
Aggregate income is the combined income of the population. Relative to the state as a whole, estimated aggregate income on the islands includes a lower percentage of wage and salary income, a much higher percentage of self-employment income, and a slightly higher percentage of property and retirement income.
|Aggregate Household Income (2013)||% Wage and Salary Income||% Self-Employment Income||% Property Income (includes dividends and interest)||% Social Security||% Retirement||% Other|
|Islands Total||$ 149,311,600||44.4%||20.1%||14.2%||9.3%||10.2%||1.9%|
|State of Maine||$ 34,970,018,800||70.2%||6.1%||5.2%||8.6%||6.3%||3.6%|
Source: 2013 US Census American Community Survey 5 Year Estimates
In the spring of 2015, the Island Institute conducted its second basic Island Market Basket Survey (the first was conducted in the fall of 2010 and reported in the 2012 edition of Island Indicators). Island Fellows were asked to go grocery shopping on their island. (For some Fellows, this was not an option as no year-round stores were open at the time.) Each Fellow was asked to purchase the same items from an identical shopping list and report back.
While this shopping trip does not represent a true study of food costs, it does give an indication of food availability and the frequently higher cost of food on islands. Many island stores work hard to keep the prices of staples low as a service to their community. However, every food item imported to an island travels by trucks, ferry, private boat, and/or air. In most instances, the items have to be handled multiple times before being placed on the store shelf. Transportation, fuel costs, and the cost of labor are all higher—sometimes significantly so—for island stores. Those costs are reflected in the price of food. Islanders often go off-island to buy groceries or order them by phone from a mainland store and have the food shipped by ferry or air. For some, traveling off-island is a multi-day affair due to ferry or flight schedules. Even when shopping in mainland stores, island consumers wind up paying more for transportation and labor cost than mainland consumers do.
|Spring 2015||Chebeague||Isle au Haut||Islesboro||Vinalhaven||Swan's Island|
|Orange juice (half gallon)||$4.85||$4.09||$5.29||$4.49||$4.15|
|White bread (loaf)||$4.34||$4.99||$3.99||NA||$4.09|
|White rice (1 lb.)||$2.19||$4.69||$4.29||$3.59||$2.49|
|Lettuce (head of iceberg)||$2.29||$2.59||NA||NA||$2.89|
|10 oz. can of yellow corn||$2.35||$1.79||$1.59||$3.59||NA|
|Beef ($/lb.) (non-organic)||$4.89||$7.02||$5.49||$4.99||$4.89|
|Sugar (1 lb.)||$1.25||$1.59||$2.99||$1.29||$1.69|
|Flour (1 lb.)||$3.55||$3.19||$2.99||$2.09||$3.89|
|Cat food (12 lb.)||$7.00||$7.19||$6.49||$6.29||$3.99|
|Diapers (36 ct. package)||$10.39||$11.59||$8.99||$14.29||NA|
|Beer (6 pack Budweiser)||$10.50||$8.99||$8.99||$6.49||NA|
|Coca Cola (6 pack)||$1.502||$2.19||$2.19||$6.47||NA|
|Toilet paper (8 ct.)||$2.00/roll||$3.89||$2.29||$1.79||$5.69|
Lobstering & Fishing
Maine’s coastal economies are heavily dependent on fisheries—particularly lobster. According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, lobster accounted for 78.1% ($457 million) of the total value of Maine’s fisheries ($585 million) in 2014. That’s up from 68.5% in 2013.
Maine’s coastal economies are dependent on one specie: a fundamentally unstable position in the long run. Temperatures in the Gulf of Maine have begun to change rapidly, warming about 0.26ºC per year since 2004. These warmer waters have led to a boom in lobster landings. This increase was most dramatic in 2012, when more than 127 million pounds of lobster were caught (an increase in 22 million pounds over 2011). This massive increase in supply resulted in the total value of the lobster fishery dropping $3.7 million compared to 2011.
The price did begin rebounding in 2013, with a 20-cent increase in average price. This increase in price resulted in the value of the lobster fishery jumping by more than $20 million from 2012. While the increased price was helpful for fishermen, prices averaging around $2.90 per pound are far less than the $4.00+ per pound fishermen had been receiving in the mid-2000s.
And for only the third time ever (and the third year in a row), Maine lobster fishermen landed over 120 million pounds of lobster in 2014. The average price rebounded by 79 cents over 2013 to $3.69 per pound.
|Year||Lobster Landings||Total Lobster Value||Average Price per Pound|
|105 million pounds||$334 million||$3.19|
|2012||127 million pounds||$331 million||$2.68|
|2013||124 million pounds||$374 million||$2.90|
|2014||120 million pounds||$456.9 million||$3.69|
 DMR is preliminarily reporting the value as “over 120 million”; final numbers for 2014 will be released in the summer of 2015.
Source: Maine Department of Marine Resources
While the state of Maine’s economy as a whole depends heavily on the lobster industry, for some small island and coastal communities lobstering is the economy. Even in other communities with significant income from tourism and construction, lobstering provides a significant percentage of family income that would not be easily replaced.
Commuting to a job on the mainland can be very difficult and not a viable option for those living on an island with infrequent ferry service. In an effort to combat some of the fluctuations in the lobster market and continue making a living on the water, several island and coastal communities are taking more control over their product through local cooperatives.
Little Cranberry Lobster is a co-op that operates on Islesford and harvests and ships year-round. They offer live lobster as well as fresh cooked and picked meat. For the fishermen on Islesford, being able to sell their lobsters on island makes living on the island more viable. Without the co-op, they would need to spend time and money going over to the mainland to sell their lobsters.
Similarly, Vinalhaven Fishermen’s Co-op supplies the town’s lobstermen with bait and fuel and distributes their lobsters to customers around the world.
While Little Cranberry Lobster and Vinalhaven’s Fishermen’s Co-op focus on providing fresh lobster, Calendar Islands Maine Lobster Company (based in Casco Bay) offers a range of value-added products. It provides everything from raw lobster meat to lobster sliders, puff pastries, and rangoons.
Maine lobstermen recognize the importance of the fishery to the sustainability of their communities, and the emergence of coops shows that they are willing to expand into new marketing, branding, and processing ventures to help guard against future shocks in the market.
Island towns have fewer year-round rental housing units per capita than the state average.
Source: 2013 US Census American Community Survey 5 Year Estimates
The islands also have very high seasonal housing vacancy. 62% of the total housing stock on the islands is seasonal, compared to 16% for the state as a whole. There are 1.38 housing units per person on the islands, compared to .54 in the state, many of which are owned and occupied by seasonal residents.
Several islands have created affordable housing organizations in the past decade, including Great Cranberry, Isle Au Haut, Monhegan, and North Haven. The limited availability of affordable housing for year-round rental or for purchase is a significant economic hurdle for individuals and businesses in most island towns.
For businesses, especially seasonal businesses, it is difficult to attract employees for the summer season if the only housing available is rented on a weekly basis and at summer prices. For individuals, including young people graduating from college and returning to live on islands, it can be nearly impossible to find year-round rentals or affordable options for purchase, making it difficult to return to living on an island. The lack of affordable housing also, in some communities, adds to the difficulty of finding qualified applicants for town positions, including teachers and town administrators. As housing values continue to rise more rapidly on islands than in the state as a whole, we anticipate that this issue will become increasingly important and efforts to address it will grow.
Each year, Maine Revenue Service certifies the fully equalized value of all real and personal property that is subject to taxation under Maine law. Island real estate continues to appreciate at a higher rate than the rest of the state. While the state as a whole lost 3% of its valuation between 2009 and 2014, the islands gained 1%. From 2001 to 2009, the islands’ valuation increased by 166%, compared to a 114% increase for the whole state.
|2008||2011||2013||2014||% Change 2009-2014|
|Isle au Haut||$77,950,000||$82,850,000||$85,300,000||$85,100,000||9%|
Source: Maine Revenue Services, Property Tax Division
The State Valuation lags actual market values and municipal assessments by nearly two years by the time it is final and certified.
Valuation data does not include Peaks, Cliff, or Great Diamond, which are part of the City of Portland.
In 2014, the valuation per housing unit on the islands was $410,100 compared to a valuation per housing unit of $216,402 for the state as a whole.
Electricity rates on islands continue to be significantly higher than on the mainland, with the exception of the Casco Bay Islands, Islesboro, and the Cranberry Isles, which are served directly by mainland utility companies. The national average cost of electricity is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) The New England average is 18 cents/kWh, the Maine average is 15 cents/kWh, and the islands range from 13 to 70 cents/kWh.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
http://www.eia.doe.gov/electricity/epm/table5_6_b.html; Public Utilities Commission
http://www.maine.gov/mpuc/electricity/index.shtml; Monhegan Plantation Power District; Matinicus Plantation Electrical Company; Isle au Haut Electric; Swan’s Island Electric Cooperative
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 85% of island households use heating oil to heat their homes, compared to 80% in the state of Maine and just 9% nationally. A sample of comparable heating prices suggests that #2 heating oil, propane, and kerosene tend to be more expensive on islands, and the range of pricing varies widely across the islands. Possible factors to explain the increased costs include transportation costs, lack of competition, and storage costs.
Source: Maine Office of Energy Independence and Security; Sampling of Island Fuel Dealers
Source: Maine Office of Energy Independence and Security; Sampling of Island Fuel Dealers
Ferries are a lifeline for Maine’s island communities. Overall, ferry ridership for the state’s three largest ferry companies (Maine State Ferry Service, Casco Bay Island Transit District, and Chebeague Transportation Company) has increased an average of 2.5% per year since 2011. Given the seasonal nature of island economies, the vast majority of ferry rides occur during the summer. One of the costs of living on an island is the expense of taking the ferry to the mainland to go to the grocery store, to visit friends and family, or go to a sporting or other entertainment event, to name a few examples. The cost of a round trip to the mainland for a family of four (based on islander ferry rates) ranges from $13.40 on Chebeague to $100 on Matinicus.
Source: Maine State Ferry Service, Casco Bay Island Transit District, Chebeague Transportation Company, Isle au Haut Boat Service, Beal and Bunker Mail Boat, Monhegan Boat Line
Climate Change Ocean Indicator
Gulf of Maine sea surface temperatures have risen substantially in the past thirty years, and especially since 2004. Bottom temperatures have also climbed significantly in the past decade. Evidence suggests that this rising ocean temperature is causing many marine species—including the economically important lobster—to migrate toward cooler water, while other warm-water species move in to the Gulf of Maine. The effects of these species movements could include significant disruption of the lobster industry, regulatory challenges over new species, potential impacts to the tourism industry, and will likely continue to affect the way we live and work in Maine.
Gulf of Maine sea surface temperature
Gulf of Maine bottom temperature